Friday, December 14, 2007

‘No rigging in Transco auction’--justice chief

By Margaux Ortiz

MANILA, Philippines -- Justice Secretary Raul Gonzalez is challenging opposition senators who described the National Transmission Corp. (Transco) bidding process as a charade to substantiate their allegations.

“Monte Oro Grid Resources was the highest bidder. How can it be lutong macao (a charade)?” Gonzalez said in an interview with reporters on Thursday.

The winning consortium, which counts among its partners Enrique Razon, treasurer of the administration Team Unity in the May senatorial elections, won the right to operate the strategic national power transmission grid with a $3.95-billion bid on Wednesday.

Opposition senators said they would seek a Supreme Court injunction to stop the awarding of the assets of National Transmission Corp. (Transco) to the consortium.

Gonzalez stressed that the allegations were unfair to the Power Sector Assets and Liabilities Management Corp. (PSALM), which conducted the auction.

“It was important that the PSALM board provided for a minimum floor price, but the offered bid of the winning bidder was very, very much more,” the Department of Justice secretary said.

“If that was lutong macao, [the people behind Monte Oro] would not offer a price because they are already sure that they would win,” he added.

Asked to react to allegations that Razon’s consortium won the bid because of his alleged close ties to President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, Gonzalez said the businessman was just part of the group that participated in the bidding process.

“Does it mean that just because he was there, you would have to disqualify the highest bid?” Gonzalez pointed out, stressing that the consortium was not a sole proprietorship.

When asked about the plan of opposition Senator Ma. Ana Consuelo “Jamby” Madrigal's to file a class action suit against the auction, Gonzalez said there was no way to stop the bid.

“Well the opposition can always file anything. They will never be satisfied anyway,” the justice secretary said.

Madrigal said the victory of Razon, head of port operator International Container Terminal Services Inc. (ICTSCI), should prompt the Senate blue ribbon committee to act immediately on her resolution calling for an investigation of the Transco bidding.

Madrigal has also linked Arroyo's brother, Diosdado “Buboy” Macapagal Jr., and the Aboitiz family, a known administration ally, to Monte Oro.

Gonzalez said he would not see anything wrong about Arroyo’s brother being part of the consortium, if indeed he was.

"He is a legitimate businessman," Gonzalez pointed out. "It was the corporation that participated and the personality of the corporation is different from the individual's. Assuming that he participated, it is unfair [to conclude there is a conflict of interest] just because he is the brother of the President."

Senator Aquilino Pimentel Jr. earlier said Jose Ibazeta, president of Power Sector Assets and Liabilities Management Corp. (PSALM), which conducted the auction, was in a conflict of interest situation, “being a current director of companies in Razon's empire.”

The sale of Transco assets has been described as the biggest privatization in Philippine history, involving power transmission lines with optic fiber broadband capability.

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