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13 December 2008

Solon urges congress to probe US$120-M hotel-casino project in Subic

QUEZON CITY-- A party list representative urged congress to fully investigate the "irresponsible accusations" made by renowned architect and urban planner Felino Palafox, Jr. against the Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority, even as she questioned Palafox' motives in "raising hell and high water" over the Grand Utopia project vis-a-vis his recommendation to transfer it to another project he designed in the Freeport.

In a privilege speech, Rep. Carissa Coscolluela called for a thorough congressional inquiry to clear the issues muddled in the "web of lies conveniently spun around a completely unrelated issue - an environmental advocacy campaign to save some trees in order to attract media attention and generate political and public support for the transfer of the resort project."

The congresswoman said she was "perplexed by the indiscriminate, arbitrary and irresponsible way that accusations have been hurled against the SBMA," - starting from the alleged cutting of trees at the site of the $120 million hotel casino project to accusations of extortion that Palafox alleged to have led to his disqualification from an earlier project - the redesign of the master plan for the Freeport's development.

"Since an outstanding member of the business community has made accusations against a government agency and its agents, let us fully investigate the matter so that truth may come out and those who might be found guilty can be punished and the innocent be spared," Coscolluela said in her privilege speech on Tuesday.

She cited the ever-changing statements Palafox and his spokespersons have been feeding to members of the media, which she said was unfair to SBMA.

"The reputation of the SBMA and its agents, including a nine-year old boy, was besmirched. They have been unfairly crucified in the court of public opinion in this trial by innuendo," said Coscolluela.

Palafox first claimed that his firm was disqualified from the master plan project's bidding since he did not come up with the 18% (of the contract price) allegedly demanded by a member of the SBMA Bids and Awards Committee (BAC).

Yet, Coscolluela stressed, records of the SBMA BAC clearly show that Palafox Associates was never disqualified from the bidding process as reported in the news, but was in fact among the final three firms short listed, added Coscolluela.

"Palafox Associates lost after all respective proposals of all qualified bidders were ranked in accordance with the set of criteria formulated under the Terms of Reference governing the bidding of the project," she revealed.

Coscolluela noted that Palafox subsequently said that his associate told him it was the son of SBMA Administrator Armand Arreza who was behind the extortion attempt - who was only nine years old at that time.

She added that Palafox later backtracked and said it could not have been instigated by Arreza or his son.

"Their (Palafox's camp) stories change everyday," said Coscolluela.

On Tuesday, she said a radio commentator revealed that sources close to Palafox identified the person behind the extortion attempt as a member of the SBMA Board of Directors named Boy Coscolluela.

"There is only one Coscolluela on the SBMA Board-- my father. He never spoke to Palafox or his associates about this project, and his name is not even 'Boy'," she said.

"Palafox and his cohorts cannot even get their lies straight," she added.

"To this day, Palafox hides behind all these people who speak for him and has not been man enough to name the alleged extortionist," she said.

The congresswoman reiterated that the matter must be brought to congress to set the record straight once and for all.

Meanwhile, Arreza said Palafox cannot accuse him of any environmental violations.

"We have made it clear that not one tree has been, or will be cut," said Arreza, explaining that the SBMA directive to project proponent Grand Utopia Inc. is to either incorporate the trees in the development plan, or ball and then relocate them.

Arreza wonders how Palafox has come up with the idea that centuries-old and heritage trees are in the area which, during the 50's until the early 60's, was reclaimed by the US Navy for leisure purposes, particularly as a mini-golf course.

Of the 336 trees in the area, 118 are considered as ornamental. More than half of the total have diameters less than 20 centimeters and are considered as saplings, Arreza said.

He clarified that the term 'urban jungle' is inappropriate, since the area, which was zoned for resort development as early as 1996, lies in the Central Business District, and is actually adjacent to SBMA offices.

"The Central Business District is where you would normally find entertainment structures like the proposed Ocean 9 Resort-Hotel," Arreza said. (SBMA Corporate Communications)

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