Olongapo SubicBay BatangGapo Newscenter

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

SBMA chief to probe extortion claims

The chairman of the state-owned Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority has started his own investigation into the alleged extortion attempt by an SBMA bidding official, saying this was the second irregularity he learned about this year.

"I'm handling the investigation myself," SBMA Chairman Feliciano Salonga told the Philippine Daily Inquirer, parent company of INQUIRER.net, by telephone.

He was referring to the allegation by architect and urban planner Felino Palafox Jr. that a member of the SBMA bids and awards committee (BAC) had demanded an 18 percent commission from his company so it could be included in the shortlist of bidders for a project updating the Subic Bay Freeport's master development plan late last year.

Palafox disclosed the incident to the Inquirer on Sunday as he expressed fears that the malpractice might impact on the campaign to save 366 trees on an almost two-hectare lot where the Grand Utopia Inc., a Korean company, plans to build a casino and hotel resort.

"This is the second time I have heard of such incident. Until Jun [Palafox] revealed it to you, I would not have known about it," Salonga said.

He said a representative of Win's Way, a Chinese company that plans to put up a $2 billion facility for processing and handling of imported oil, reported to him that the firm was asked by an SBMA official to shell out P8 million to fast track the approval of the project.

Salonga said the company has not paid up. Its project is awaiting approval from the SBMA board.

He begged off from giving details on his investigation into the extortion attempt on Win's Way. He said though that in the incidents on Palafox and Win's Way, a common denominator was an SBMA official.

"I'm the chair. I've to exercise my authority here and put some people in their right places," he said.

Edgardo Pamintuan, chairman of the Subic-Clark Alliance for Development Council and one of the two top officials to whom Palafox confided the incident, said SBMA Administrator Armand Arreza had sacked the head of the BAC after learning of the incident.

The other official was Presidential Management Staff chief Cerge Remonde. Palafox also raised the matter to Arreza.

In recent interviews, Arreza said no formal investigation was conducted because Palafox had not heeded his advice to file a formal complaint on the matter.

Arreza instead urged Palafox to identify the erring official so that the SBMA could take appropriate actions.

Palafox did not identify the BAC official, saying the information remained with his senior associate, architect Chona Ponce. She could not be reached for an interview on Monday.

By Ponce's account, as shared by Palafox, the BAC official first relayed the message to Palafox's engineering consultant who, in turn, referred the matter to Ponce. By Tonette Orejas - Inquirer Central Luzon Desk

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