Senate panel OKs Villar's censure

Senate panel OKs Villar censure
By Aurea Calica (The Philippine Star) Updated January 19, 2010 12:00 AM

MANILA,Philippines – The Senate Committee of the Whole has recommended the censure of Sen. Manuel Villar Jr. for unethical conduct when he sought the realignment of the C-5 road extension project to benefit his properties in the area. The report said he must pay more than P6 billion to cover the government’s expenses for the highway.

Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile, chairman of the committee that drafted the report, said 11 others had signed it along with him and agreed to tackle the report on the floor.

Those who signed were Senate President Pro Tempore Jinggoy Estrada, Senate Majority Leader Juan Miguel Zubiri, Senators Rodolfo Biazon, Panfilo Lacson, Jamby Madrigal, Edgardo Angara, Benigno Aquino III, Manuel Roxas II, Richard Gordon, Francis Escudero and Francis Pangilinan.

Enrile said he would sponsor the report today as it had been filed last night.

There had been serious doubts on whether the C-5 report would be adopted or even discussed on the floor since Villar and 11 other senators had signed a resolution dismissing the charges against him.

Those who signed such resolution favoring Villar were Villar himself, Estrada, Pangilinan, Senate Minority Leader Aquilino Pimentel Jr., Senators Joker Arroyo, Alan Peter Cayetano, Miriam Defensor-Santiago, Gregorio Honasan II, Pia Cayetano, Manuel Lapid, Ramon Revilla Jr. and Loren Legarda.

But Enrile said the signing of the report did not mean that the Senate already convicted Villar because they would still have to debate and vote on it.

“Regardless of whether or not they agree with the report, they can sign. But as far as the voting is concerned, that’s another matter. (It’s) only to bring the matter to the floor for discussion and then we will vote on whether they agree with the sanction,” Enrile said, adding that he recommended a reprimand since it would be impossible to get two-thirds of the senators to expel Villar.

He also noted that it might not be possible to suspend Villar due to lack of votes as well.

Enrile said Villar could answer on the floor anytime to defend himself. Villar had been snubbing the hearings of the committee of the whole, saying the Senate was only a kangaroo court out to convict him.

Conflict of interest

Despite the nine session days left for them before the campaign period in February, Enrile said they could still dispose of the matter.

In the draft report prepared by Enrile, the committee said Villar violated Article VI Section 14 of the Constitution and Section 3 (I) in relation to Section 9 of Republic Act 6713, or the Code of Conduct of Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees, and for engaging in improper and unethical conduct as a senator of the republic and had, by committing such violations, damaged the integrity of the Senate as an institution.

The report said Villar failed to avoid conflict of interest situation by not divesting himself of his shareholdings or interests in Adelfa Properties Inc., Golden Haven Memorial Park Inc. and Azalea Real Estate Corp. (now Brittany Corp.) when it was apparent to him that the corporations had contracts with the government, through the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH), for road right-of-way acquisition.

It said Section 9 of RA 6713 mandated that a public official or employee must avoid conflicts of interest at all times.

“For the benefit of his corporations, Senator Villar made the Filipino people suffer the total amount of P6,226,070,427.00,” it said.

The C-5 case stemmed from the expose of Lacson who said a senator sought an additional P200 million for the P200 million allotment for the project in the 2008 national budget.

Madrigal then filed an ethics case against Villar for plunder and conflict of interest, saying the former Senate chief benefited from the project.

The issue also cost Villar the Senate presidency as his colleagues decided to oust him when the issue broke out.

No direct evidence

Enrile said they considered the witnesses and pieces of evidence in deciding on the matter.

Based on the report, the money that the committee was asking Villar to return came from the realigned P4.28 billion for the extension project, the P1.8 billion spent for the original project but which was wasted due to the realignment, and the P141.1 million in overpriced right-of-way payments for Villar’s real estate companies.

“Villar was the proponent of the Las Piñas-Parañaque Link Road Project and the DPWH C-5 Road Extension Project were made to pass through the aforesaid corporations of Villar following a curved, instead of a straight alignment,” the report furnished to The STAR said.

Enrile refused to release the report but would not confirm or deny the contents of presumed copies in the possession of reporters.

But he said he would no longer call for an investigation into its leakage, saying it was now all up to the conscience of those who prematurely released it.

The report said the alignment of the C-5 segment of the Manila-Cavite Toll Expressway Project of the Toll Regulatory Board was changed to accommodate the two road projects.

But it added that there was no evidence that Villar had directly participated in the overpricing of his properties but he regularly funded the two projects chargeable against various infrastructures nationwide or against the Priority Development Assistance Fund from 2001 to 2008.

The report also said that Villar allowed a director, general manager, senior vice president and chief operating officer of his corporation, Adelfa Properties Inc., Anastacio Adriano Jr. to propose an amendment to the 2008 national budget amounting to P400 million for the C-5 project when there was no specific program of work for such project and despite there already being an allocation for the project.

The only apparent reason for the amendment was to make available an appropriation for the payment of right-of-way compensation claims of about P200 million, according to the report.

The report also stated that Villar used that power to satisfy the interest of his corporations, violating the conflict-of-interest rule and Article VI Section 14 of the Constitution.

Noting that Villar had proposed the C-5 extension project when he was still a member of the House of Representatives, the report said he “continued to fund” the project when he was already a senator, chairman of the committee on finance and Senate president, yet did not disclose his pecuniary interest as required by the Constitution.

A venue for Villar

Meanwhile, Sen. Alan Cayetano said the upcoming discussion of the Senate Committee of the Whole report will provide an opportunity for the public to discern that the charges filed against Villar were highly politicized.

“I am sad that this has become a numbers game rather than based on evidence. Having said that, the good news is there will be an opportunity to compare the two reports and I believe that when facts are made public the people will see that this has been highly politicized,” Cayetano said.

Since the SCOW will be read as a committee report and it will be scheduled for discussion, it will be up to the majority leader Zubiri to set the issue for plenary debates.

Cayetano said he has not seen a copy of the committee report and has no idea why Estrada and Pangilinan decided to sign it when they had earlier signed a resolution exonerating Villar. – Christina Mendez

The ProPinoy Project