A Question of Fairness
Calling A Spade…
By Solita Collas-Monsod
Posted on 08:46 PM, April 28, 2010
I have been accused by Mrs. Gloria V. Benedicto, the sister of presidential candidate Manuel Villar, of being “unfair” to her brother. As far as I am concerned, this is a very serious charge, because one of the tenets that govern my behavior and my pursuits is fairness and justice — dinned into my head by my parents, in the same way that my husband and I have dinned it into our children’s heads. Unfortunately, however, Mrs. Benedicto’s was a blanket accusation, and she gave no details, so I have no recourse but to examine, as it were, my conscience, insofar as my treatment of her brother is concerned.
Was I being “unfair” to Manny Villar when I wrote (in a column for another newspaper) that his C-5 Extension Project (for which he was found guilty of unethical conduct by his peers) was not a realignment but a new project? I shouldn’t think so. In fact, I was taking his side against his critics, who said it was a realignment..
Was I being “unfair” to Manny Villar when I wrote that the Villar landholdings in the immediate vicinity of the C-5 Extension (CX-5) and the Las Piñas-Paranaque Link Project (LPPLP) road projects comprised between 50-52 hectares? I shouldn’t think so. That information was provided by one of his top executives during the Senate investigation — in fact I was very careful to point out that it was not clear whether or not the 52 hectares included 10 hectares of property that was being developed by the Villar companies in joint venture with other property owners.
Was I being “unfair” to Manny Villar when I wrote that he was directly involved in the CX-5 and the LPPLP road projects? I shouldn’t think so. The bases for that statement were government documents such as the DPWH Project Feasibility Study for CX-5 which explicitly stated that it was “initiated by Sen. Manuel Villar whose same efforts also paved the way for the funding of the Las Piñas Paranaque Link Road,” and various insertions and amendments in the national government budget made by Villar for the two projects between 2002 and 2008; and again, the testimony of the same top executive cited above.
Was I being “unfair” to Manny Villar when I wrote that the answer to the question whether there was overpricing of the Villar properties that were bought for right-of-way purposes depended on the reader, because while the Senate Report said yes, the Senate Resolution signed by Villar and his Senate allies said no?
I shouldn’t think so. What I merely did was to calculate for the reader (based on the Senate Report — the Villar resolution contained no data) what the average price paid for the properties — P7, 168 for Villar’s, P1,880 for non-Villar.
Was I being “unfair” to Manny Villar when I showed on TV (in one of my analyses) the map which allowed the viewer to compare the CX-5 road alignment with the Manila Cavite Toll Expressway Project (MCTEP), which was a BOT project with minimal government outlay?
I shouldn’t think so. First, the map showed that there was no realignment, but two separate projects. And second, the map allowed the viewer to understand what the controversy was all about. Besides, that map was already on the gmanews.tv Web site.
Nevertheless, my TV bosses asked me to do a similar analysis on the Subic-Clark-Tarlac Expressway (SCTEX) project, to give equal time, as it were, to the critics of Noynoy Aquino, who were charging him with intervening in the SCTEX project (presumably just like Villar on the CX-5 project) for his personal pecuniary benefits. And this I did.
The first step in my research on the project was to call up Cavite Rep. Crispin “Boying” Remulla, who was spearheading the attack on Aquino over this issue.
I had received four or five “Massacre Briefers” by e-mail from Remulla’s office. The reason for the title “Massacre,” according to Remulla’s e-mails, was because the SCTEX “scandal” involves “slowly murdering the farmers of Luisita by paying them starvation wages, limiting their workdays and the area of the land they till.”
Now, while the relationship between Luisita and its farmer/employees are an issue which definitely merit discussion, my focus was on whether Noynoy Aquino, had used his influence to get the SCTEX project approved, and had profited from it at huge government expense — as Villar had been found to have done by his Senate peers.
Was I being “unfair” to Manny Villar by not zeroing in on the farmers of Luisita and their treatment, fair or unfair, in regard to the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program?
I shouldn’t think so. The Luisita problem goes all the way back to 1968, when Aquino’s maternal grandfather allegedly reneged on one of the conditions of the government loans he obtained in 1958 — which was to distribute the Luisita land to the farmer/workers within 10 years. In 1958, Noynoy Aquino wasn’t even born. And in 1968, he was all of 8 years old.
It is kind of difficult to hold him responsible for what his grandfather did. Plus, he is neither the majority owner — he owns at most 2.2% — nor in the management of Luisita. It is kind of difficult to hold him responsible for what he neither owns nor controls, nor manages.
But back to Boying Remulla.
When I talked to him over the phone, I asked him if he could give me the computations/data/documents that would help substantiate the charges he made, particularly the following (which I quoted from his e-mail): “The net effect of Noynoy’s machination is that from its original cost of P18.7 billion in 1999, the SCTEX project cost was adjusted to P18.7 billion in 2003, to P21 billion in 2004, and by the time it got finished, the cost ballooned to a whopping P32.808 billion, or double the original price.”
Remulla answered: “I was misquoted.”
Okay. So Noynoy had nothing to do with the ballooning of the SCTEX costs. I then asked Remulla if he could give me some of the dates of meetings where, and again, I quoted from his e-mailed Massacre Briefer # 4: “Noynoy made sure he was present in most meetings related to the construction of SCTEX.”
Remulla answered: “I was misquoted.”
It takes talent to misquote yourself, and Boying Remulla was equal to the challenge.
He did tell me that he was more interested in the Luisita /agrarian reform angle, and I asked him to send me the documentation he had. He hasn’t sent me any to this day.
But I had several phone conversations and meetings with the Bases Conversion and Development Authority (BCDA) and with Nando Cojuangco, of Luisita. They provided every document that I asked for.
The upshot of my research was that Noynoy Aquino had nothing to do with SCTEX; that the SCTEX was precisely built to connect the three main industrial areas of Clark, Subic, and Tarlac (which happened to be in Luisita); that the Japanese investors in Luisita’s industrial estate were the ones who pushed for the Japanese financing; that the payment for Luisita’s road right of way was less than the payment for the road right of way to other Tarlac property owners outside of Luisita; that the final SCTEX alignment connecting Clark to Tarlac was shorter than the original alignment, and did not enter the industrial estate as was originally designed; and finally, that the interchange that Remulla made so much noise about was not even a whole interchange (as was originally designed) but half an interchange (one can enter Luisita if one is coming from Clark, but not if one is coming from the North).
Was I “unfair” to Manny Villar in making these findings known? I shouldn’t think so. You be the judge. In any case, after this examination of conscience, I honestly don’t think any penance is indicated.