Gerry Albert Corpuz, Bombshell Moran and Trinity Biglang Awa
MANILA, Philippines- Staunch critics of President Benigno Simeon “Noynoy” Aquino III on Saturday challenged the 50-year old bachelor president to allow the newly established Truth Commission to investigate not only corruption cases involving former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and her allies, but also his own turf in connection with the controversial Subic Clark Tarlac Expressway (SCTex) road scandal.
In a press statement, the activist fisherfolk alliance Pambansang Lakas ng Kilusang Mamamalakaya ng Pilipinas (Pamalakaya) said the national goverment paid P 170 million for the construction of the interchange in Hacienda Luisita, and there was no closure about the previous expose on this highly irregular deal between the Arroyo government and the Cojuangco-Aquino who agreed on the deal.
“Why not include the SCTex road scandal in the list of high crimes of corruption that happened during the Macapagal-Arroyo administration? If this truth body is after truth, justice and accountability, then it should include the SCTex right of way scandal in the investigation. If President Aquino and former President Arroyo are accountable for flagship cases of corruption that happened from 2001 to 2009, then by all means, subject the two to the Truth Commission and have their grand day for condemnation before the Filipino public,” said Pamalakaya national chair Fernando Hicap in a press statement.
The Truth Commission created through Aquino’s Executive Order No.1 was established to investigate ex-President Arroyo and her allies accountable for irregularities under her watch, including the “Hello Garci” election fraud scandal.
President Aquino signed yesterday Executive Order No. 1 will “investigate reports of graft and corruption of such scale and magnitude that shock and offend the moral and ethical sensibilities of the people.”
The “independent collegial body” chaired by retired Chief Justice Hilario Davide Jr. will have four more commissioners. It has until Dec. 31, 2012, to complete its work, with formal hearings most likely to begin next year, according Justice Secretary Leila de Lima.
De Lima said the hearings would be open to the public but that closed-door sessions would be conducted for “matters of national security or public safety,” including the safety of witnesses.
Justice secretary De Lima said EO No. 1 was crafted in such a way that it would be “broad enough” to include cases such as Arroyo’s purported manipulation of the 2004 presidential election.
In seeking closure to controversies that occurred from 2001 to 2009, President Aquino armed the truth commission with the power to subpoena respondents and documents.
The commission is empowered to “collect, receive, review and evaluate evidence related to or regarding the cases of large-scale corruption which it has chosen to investigate, and to this end, require any agency, official or employee of the executive branch, including government-owned and -controlled corporations (GOCCs), to produce documents, books, records, and other papers.”
The EO empowers the commission to “obtain information and documents from the Senate and the House of Representatives’ records of investigations conducted by committees,” as well as those from the “courts, including the Sandiganbayan and the Office of the Court Administrator,” in connection with corruption cases filed before them.
The commission can also “call upon any government investigative or prosecutorial agency such as the DOJ or any of the agencies under it, and the Presidential Anti-Graft Commission, for such assistance and cooperation as it may require in the discharge of its functions and duties.”
“If that is the case of this EO, then it can also summon the President or any members of the Cojuangco-Aquino clan to explain and bare all about the P 170 million SCTex scandal and how the family continues to control Luisita despite legal, political and moral basis for them to surrender their unlawful and immoral claim of the 6,453 hectare sugar estate,” said Pamalakaya’s Hicap.
The Pamalakaya leader the Cojuangco-Aquino family received P 170 million but regular government procedure mandates the landowner should give the property to the government at zero cost.
Hicap said the government does not ordinarily pay private landowners for right-of-way properties in government projects because the private landowner presumably benefits from the construction of a national road.
The Pamalakaya official also noted that the Toll Regulatory Board, which processes applications for interchanges in major road projects, does not normally pay for the construction of interchanges in private lands.
“Because of the SCTex hocus pocus, the value of Hacienda Luisita per square meter increased from P 8 to P 1,000 per square meter. The SCTex scandal deserves another round of scrutiny and the Truth Commission can look into this issue, aside from those high crimes of corruption perpetrated by the ruling Arroyo clique in Malacanang from 2001 to 2009,” Pamalakaya said.
The cost of the interchange built inside the Hacienda Luisita complex was shouldered by the government and funded through a loan from the Japan Bank and International Corp. It is a flagship project of President Gloria Arroyo.
The Bases Conversion and Development Authority (BCDA)-SCTEx project engineering chief retired general Eduardo Lena had explained that the government paid for the construction of the interchange because it was part of the original plan for SCTEx.
The hearing failed to directly link Senator Aquino to the allegedly irregular transaction. The BCDA had negotiated with Senator Aquino’s uncle, Pedro Cojuangco.#