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Group revives plunder complaint vs Alvarez over Piatco case

MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – The group Pinoy Aksyon for Governance Environment (Page) on Monday, December 11, submitted a letter-complaint to the Office of the Ombudsman, urging the reinvestigation of an old plunder complaint against House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez.

Bencyrus Ellorin, convenor of Page, said they filed the complaint out of frustration that the people in power are those who faced corruption cases before.

Page has pledged support for Supreme Court Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno, who has complicated ties to Alvarez by virtue of Philippine International Air Terminals Company Incorporated (Piatco).

Alvarez faced a plunder complaint in 2001 over Piatco. Piatco lost an arbitration case to the government, whose lawyers included Sereno. Sereno’s earnings from that case is being scrutinized in the ongoing impeachment proceedings against her at the House of Representatives.

“The people deserve a full and impartial investigation into Representative Alvarez’s involvement in the Wintrack deal, and a reckoning for all that he has gained at our expense,” Page said in its letter complaint.

“That has long been dismissed,” Alvarez said in a text message to reporters. 

It was indeed dismissed by the Ombudsman, but it was elevated to the Supreme Court, and the latter remanded it to Ombudsman for a new investigation.

The Wintrack deal

In 1997, the government, through the Department of Transportation and Communication (DOTC), began the process of bidding out the project to build the Ninoy Aquino International Airport III or NAIA III.

Alvarez was then the senior assistant general manager and chief operating officer of the Manila International Airport Authority (MIAA), as well as the chairperson of the pre-qualification, bids and awards committee (PBAC).

The contract was awarded to a series of companies, which later formed as Piatco. Because the site of the would-be airport had subterranean structures, it had to undergo demolition works.

Piatco and the government agreed that Piatco would undertake the demolitions, but that the government would reimburse the cost.

“Despite this, the clearing of subterranean structures on the project site was eventually sub-contracted by Takenaka Corporation, a Japanese construction firm contracted by Piatco to construct NAIA III, to a domestic company called Wintrack Builders, Inc. (Wintrack), without public bidding,” said Page’s letter-complaint.

Alvarez’s wife Emelita Alvarez was one of the incorporators of Wintrack.

Page noted that Emelita's shares in Wintrack are considered conjugal property under the Family Code. That would make Alvarez a direct stakeholder.

"Rep Alvarez was prohibited by the Constitution from maintaining such interest: the Constitution provides that members of Congress may not be indirectly interested in any contract with the Government during their term of office," the group said.

At the arbitral tribunal, the government said the agreement was for purposes of “degrading the Philippines and to obtain kickbacks benefitting Pantaleon Alvarez and the Chengs by inflating invoices for the subterranean work done by Wintrack Builders whose owner was Pantaleon Alvarez.”

Cheng Yong was the president of Piatco.

Conflict of interest

In the plunder complaint, Alvarez was accused of conspiring with construction firm Wintrack Builders to earn kickbacks from the project. “Wintrack was owned by the wife of Alvarez,” according to the decision of the arbitration tribunal’s decision, which denied Piatco’s claim for damages.

“Wintrack greatly inflated its invoices, the cost of which was passed on the Philippine government, allegedly with the knowledge of Fraport,” the tribunal said, quoting the government’s pleadings.

As a result, Alvarez and other officials and personalities became the subject of a plunder complaint in 2001. In 2002, then Ombudsman Aniano Desierto dismissed the complaint for lack of evidence.

The MIAA–NAIA Association of Service Operators filed a petition for certiorari before the Supreme Court (SC). In 2005, the SC Third Division set aside Desierto’s resolution and directed the Ombudsman to “conduct a preliminary investigation anew of petitioners.”

The decision was signed by now-retired associate justice Angelina Sandoval Gutierrez, and concurred by the rest of the members, now-retired justices Artemio Panganiban, the late Renato Corona, and Conchita Carpio-Morales.

Now, as Ombudsman, Morales is urged to follow her own division’s ruling and act on the plunder complaint.

Ellorin said this would test whether the justice system is still working.

“Representative Alvarez has evaded liability for his criminal and unethical actions involving the Wintrack contact for years,” the letter-complaint said.

Allegations

These allegations were all quoted in the different decisions by different bodies. It was quoted by the arbitral tribunal when it denied Piatco’s claim for damages. Piatco sued for damages after the SC nullified their contract.

It was also referenced by the SC when it remanded the case to the Office of the Ombudsman.

In a television interview, Sereno said it may be possible that the impeachment complaint against her is being entertained by the House as Alvarez’s form of revenge over the Piatco case.

Alvarez has condemned this insinuation, and told Sereno to stick to answering allegations the complaint. – Rappler.com

Lian Buan

Lian Buan covers justice and corruption for Rappler. She is interested in decisions, pleadings, audits, contracts, and other documents that establish a trail. If you have leads, email lian.buan@rappler.com or tweet @lianbuan.

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