Saturday, May 03, 2008

Korea's Hanjin alleged P400 M bribery offer


Hanjin bribery bid a reprise of NBN scam, says Lacson

By Sherwin C. Olaes

Daily Tribune 05/04/2008

The brewing Hanjin Heavy Industries amd Construction Corp.�s (Hanjin) bribery mess was a scene taken from the ZTE-National Broadband Network (NBN) scam when President Arroyo asked former Socio-Economic Planning Secretary Romulo Neri why he refused to accept a P200-million bribe, according to Sen. Panfilo Lacson.

Mrs. Arroyo again failed to immediately investigate Korean industrial Hanjin bribe offer that Tagoloan, Misamis Oriental Mayor Paulino Emano told Mrs. Arroyo.

Emano said the bribery attempt was for him to allow a $2-billion shipyard project of the firm despite the absence of an environmental clearance.

If Emano was indeed offered P400 million in bribe and Mrs. Arroyo ignored the mayor�s report, a more interesting question now comes to mind. �How much was offered or actually given to Malaca�ang or Mrs. Arroyo?,� Lacson asked.

The payoff mess involving Hanjin is turning out to be another scandal in the mold of the $329.48 million ZTE-NBN deal, Lacson said.

Lacson noted Mrs. Arroyo did not order an investigation when Emano told her about a P400 million bribe offer, just like she ignored Neri�s report of a P200 million offer.

�It�s Sec, may 200 ka rito (Secretary you have 200 in the project)� all over again.

Lacson was referring to the notorious exchange between Neri and former Commission on Elections (Comelec) chairman Benjamin Abalos that was revealed by Neri himself during a Senate inquiry into the NBN bribery anomaly.

When Mayor Paulino reported to Mrs. Arroyo a P400 million bribe offer by Hanjin, instead of ordering an immediate investigation, he was ignored by Mrs. Arroyo, Lacson said.

�Now that he is talking a bit, a full-blown investigation is being ordered,� Lacson added.

Malaca�ang, meanwhile, indicated being irked over what it termed as an exaggeration by Emano that Mrs. Arroyo ignored him when he reported the alleged bribery attempt by Hanjin.

Deputy presidential spokeswoman Lorelei Fajardo said there�s no truth Emano�s claim but she said Mrs. Arroyo, nevertheless, called the attention over Hanjin�s manhandling complaint against him.

�In view of the conflicting reports or assertions from both sides of the story, the president has directed (Department of the Interior and Local Government) Secretary (Ronaldo) Puno to initiate a fact finding investigation, to ferret out the truth,� she said.

Lacson said last year, when Neri, now chairman of the Commission on Higher Education, told Mrs. Arroyo about a P200 million bribe offer from Abalos, Mrs. Arroyo merely told him not to accept the bribe, but to push through with the ZTE project.

Senate hearings on the ZTE mess revealed a web of corruption involving kickbacks and commissions that jacked up the price of the contract by more than 200 percent, Lacson said.

Lacson also called for the immediate securing of Emano, adding the mayor must now tell all bout the attempted bribery, and Mrs. Arroyo�s possible attempt at a cover-up.

�Mayor Emano must be protected and secured immediately. Thereafter he must tell the details of the whole truth about the attempted bribery involving Hanjin, including making Mrs. Arroyo at least an accessory after the fact,� he said.

Lacson said it is amusing that Mrs. Arroyo would be �furious� only now, saying she should have become furious the moment the bribe offer was reported to her.

�Why did she not immediately order an investigation? Is she ordering one now only because the mayor made it public? And if P400 million was offered to local officials, how much more was offered to Malaca�ang?� he said.

Emano had said he was offered the amount to allow the continued operation of the shipbuilding facility in the town. Emano ordered Hanjin to cease operation after it failed to present an environmental compliance certificate (ECC) and a municipal building permit.

Hanjin officials, through a letter-complaint filed before the office of Misamis Oriental Gov. Oscar Moreno, claimed Emano�s men manhandled one of their representatives.

Hanjin had planned to operate a $2 billion shipyard that would extend from Tagoloan to Villanueva in Misamis Oriental. Its training center alone would occupy eight hectares, while the planned shipyard would be on a 70-hectare property in Tagoloan and on a 400-hectare property in Villanueva.

Fajardo, however, was mum over reports that the President allegedly scolded the mayor upon hearing from the latter Hanjin�s bribe offer.

Fajardo said Puno has already sent Philippine National Police (PNP) investigators to check on the veracity of the mayor�s claims against Hanjin.

�We have to await their (DILG and PNP) report,� she said.

Fajardo stressed that there�s no sacred cow in the government, denying the Senate�s claim that Hanjin is being protected by President Arroyo.

�No. There are no sacred cows, the president as the primary defender of the Constitution, will never allow anybody to be above the law. The law shall be applied to all without fear or favor. The matter is presently being investigated. It is the opportunity for both sides to present their pieces of evidence, if any and those found to be liable for any wrong doing must face the music in court,� she said.

For his part, Press Secretary and presidential spokesman Ignacio Bunye in a radio interview said it was lamentable that the Hanjin project is being stalled by the bribery controversy.

�There are claims and counter claims, charges and counter charges. Secretary Puno has created a team to investigate the charges. This lost opportunity will cost us all, not only of our country but the local government,� he said.

Bunye expressed hopes that Hanjin would resume the planned shipyard project.

�Those (bribery and extortion) charges will be investigated and we hope that this situation will be resolved,� Bunye added.

Senate investigators, led by Sen. Pia Cayetano, however, said that Hanjin may face charges over the bribery allegations.

Cayetano said Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority (SBMA) officials were found to have allegedly committed grave violations in another project of Hanjin, allowing the Korean firm to construct two high-rise condominium buildings within its forest reserve area and the firm would likely be facing numerous serious charges.

Hanjin is likely to be slapped with more charges, according to Cayetano, chairman of the environment committee in the upper chamber, as it was found to have started ground works for the structure in Misamis Oriental even before an environmental clearance or permit was issued to the project.

Cayetano expressed outrage over the reported bribe from Hanjin to municipal Mayor Paulino Emano of Misamis Oriental, in exchange for his reversal in stopping the construction of he shipyard.

But Cayetano said she more outraged at the fact that even as Emano bared the bribe offer, and informed Mrs. Arroyo on this, the President even had the effrontery to scold the municipal mayor, who was merely doing the right thing, and following the law.

�I am outraged to hear that Hanjin offered such favors to the local official to allow them to continue construction even without first securing a municipal building permit and environmental compliance certificate (ECC), among others. These are basic requirements under the law, regardless of whether you�re a local or foreign investor,� said the senator, referring to the recent revelation made by Tagoloan Mayor Emano ON the P400-million contract offered to him by Hanjin.

�But what I found more revealing is when President Arroyo even scolded Mayor Emano (last Wednesday in Cagaytan de Oro City) for standing his ground, even if he only acted in accordance with his duties as an elected public official.

�The President also allegedly ignored him when he reported the matter about Hanjin�s offer,� Cayetano pointed out.

The President is also said to have ignored the baring by then National Economic Development authority (Neda) chief Romulo Neri of a P200 million bribe offer allegedly made by then Commission on Elections chairman Benjamin Abalos Sr., for Neri to push the ZTE-National Broadband Network project, which has been found by the Senate to have been kickback-laden to the tune of $135 million or so. Sherwin C. Olaes

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