Senate of the Philippines

Hontiveros tells fellow senators: ‘Stop hiding answers behind our athletes’

JC Gotinga
Hontiveros tells fellow senators: ‘Stop hiding answers behind our athletes’
'There are just too many questions and it is about time we stopped hiding the answers behind our athletes,' says Senator Risa Hontiveros about alleged anomalies in the funding of 2019 SEA Games facilities

Senator Risa Hontiveros hit back at some of her fellow senators who had opposed her call to investigate alleged anomalies in the funding for sports facilities used in the 2019 Southeast Asian Games (SEA) at New Clark City in Capas, Tarlac.

The discretion of the heads of Senate committees that may be tasked with probing the allegations she raised must not be “preempted,” Hontiveros said on Monday, November 16.

Senate President Vicente Sotto III and Senator Pia Cayetano earlier rebuffed Hontiveros for insisting on a probe, saying it was not a fitting response to the unprecedented medal haul Filipino athletes won in the tournament.

“Calling for an investigation into possible irregularities surrounding the construction of the sport facilities used in the SEA Games tarnishes neither the achievements of our athletes nor the honor they have earned for the country. They should not be used as an excuse to sweep the issue under a rug. After all, it was our athletes who won the medals, and not the persons responsible for a project flagged as anomalous by the Commission on Audit (COA),” Hontiveros said in a statement.

“This is about accountability, not politics,” she went on, adding that the Bases Conversion and Development Authority (BCDA) and the Development Bank of the Philippines (DBP) should answer questions raised by the COA on the joint venture behind the construction of the sports facilities.

Although certain issued in the funding for the 2019 SEA Games construction project are already the subject of a pending inquiry at the Office of the Ombudsman, Hontiveros said a gray area governed by multiple and possibly conflicting rules needs to be addressed. These include rules of the National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) on join ventures, the charters of government-owned and controlled corporations (GOCC), and local government ordinances.

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“There is thus a need for Congress to step in and provide some clarity to avoid the exact incident red-flagged by the COA – of projects being dressed up as joint ventures to side-step public bidding requirements,” Hontiveros said.

“The Senate should not be prevented from doing its job,” she added.

On Tuesday, November 10, Hontiveros delivered a privilege speech at the Senate plenary to call for a legislative probe into a P9.5-billion loan a Malaysian contractor, MTD Capital Berhad, took from the DBP in order to build the facilities at New Clark City.

This, in effect, meant the MTD did not shell out its own funds for the joint venture with the BCDA, and it defeated the purpose of the joint venture, Hontiveros pointed out.

A true joint venture would have had the government counterpart – the BCDA – provide the property for the project while the private party – MTD Capital Berhad – should have provided the capital for construction.

Because the money MTD used to build the facilities came from the DBP, a GOCC, then it was also Filipino taxpayers’ money, the opposition senator said. She called it a “fake joint venture.”

Read Rappler’s 3-part investigation on this project:

Hontiveros then inquired whether the BCDA “facilitated” the loan MTD took from the DBP. If so, she said that would make it a “behest loan,” which is a form of corruption.

“That money was lent by the DBP and, in the end, the money used to pay this loan came out of the pockets of us taxpayers. So is this really a joint venture, or did the BCDA fry us in our own grease?” Hontiveros said.

Questions about the project’s cash flow and the collateral used in the loan linger, and the Senate must subpoena and examine critical documents, she added.

“There are just too many questions and it is about time we stopped hiding the answers behind our athletes,” Hontiveros said.

“Kaya huwag nating daanin sa pagdadabog o ipasa na lang basta-basta sa Ombudsman. Dapat itong imbestigahan dahil napakaraming bahid na nadehado tayo, at para maisaayos at mabigyang-linaw ang batas ukol sa mga joint venture,” she added.

(So let us not stomp our way out of this or just leave it to the Ombudsman. This should be investigated because there are too many signs that we’ve been had, and in order to fix and clarify the law on joint ventures.)

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Cayetano is the sister of Taguig-Pateros Representative Alan Peter Cayetano, who headed the country’s hosting of the 2019 SEA Games. Senator Cayetano gave Hontiveros a spirited rebuke after she delivered her privilege speech last Tuesday. Cayetano said Hontiveros’ call for a probe was a “slap in the face” of athletes who have benefited from the facilities.

Last Friday, November 13, Sotto said investigations are no way to reward the people behind the country’s good showing in the tournament. “There’s the Ombudsman anyway,” he added.

This was his personal opinion, Sotto said, and he left it up to the concerned committee heads in the Senate to decide whether to launch a probe.

“The chairpersons of the Senate committees within whose competence this matter falls should not be preempted. It should be left to their sound judgment as to when and how an inquiry should be conducted,” Hontiveros said on Monday. – Rappler.com

JC Gotinga

JC Gotinga often reports about the West Philippine Sea, the communist insurgency, and terrorism as he covers national defense and security for Rappler. He enjoys telling stories about his hometown, Pasig City. JC has worked with Al Jazeera, CNN Philippines, News5, and CBN Asia.