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05 March 2009

Palafox apologizes over corruption claims in Subic

Manila - “It can be hearsay, or maybe factual. I’m very sorry if it created a lot of trouble.”

With this, renowned architect and urban planner Felino Palafox Jr. on Wednesday apologized to five public officials, including Senator Richard Gordon, who he implicated in alleged anomalies at the Subic Bay Freeport during a congressional hearing last week.

Palafox issued the apology during the resumption of the hearing conducted by the House committee on bases conversion, after failing to substantiate claims of protectionism and corruption against Gordon, Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp. (PAGCOR) chair Ephraim Genuino, former congressman Prospero Pichay, Buhay partylist representative Carissa Coscolluela, and Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority (SBMA) director Ricardo Coscolluela.

The House committee, chaired by Isabela Representative Edwin Uy, now investigates various claims by Palafox in the controversial Ocean 9 hotel-casino project. These include allegations on tree-cutting at the project site, as well as a purported extortion attempt related to bidding for the revision of the SBMA Master Development Plan.

Palafox said earlier that the five names he mentioned were being brought up constantly by “hundreds of people” as protectors of SBMA Administrator Armand Arreza, and involved in some anomalies in the free port.

However, members of the committee began to intensely grill Palafox upon realizing that the architect cannot substantiate his charges with solid evidence.

“We cannot just allow anybody, even us legislators, to accuse anyone without reasonable basis,” said Rep. Rosemary Arenas.

Rep. Philip Pichay, meanwhile, told Palafox that he has caused pain not only to his brother Prospero, but also their mother and other people close to the family.

“My brother is in the water (utility) business,” said Pichay, then wondered aloud how his brother got associated with issues in Subic.

Pichay then demanded a public apology from Palafox, specifying that it must be printed and aired in the media to clear the names Palafox has “smeared”.

Palafox said in defense that he has “never accused anyone” and that he was merely relaying information he has received.

“I must apologize for the pain it might have caused,” said Palafox. “I am just a taxpayer — I don’t have the resources to investigate, so maybe these should be referred to the NBI (National Bureau of investigation), the Ombudsman, or to other agencies,” he added.

This, however, further irked Pichay, who asserted that Palafox should have held on to evidence before making accusations. He added that the committee hearing is not the proper venue to disclose hearsays.

SBMA Administrator Armand Arreza, meanwhile, expressed relief over the course of the investigation.

“The committee, I believe, is now realizing that all Palafox has got from the beginning was blank ammunition. He’s just making noise,” said Arreza. (SBMA Corporate Communications)


PHOTO:
Architect Felino Palafox Jr. tries to wiggle his way out of intense grilling by members of the House committee on bases conversion after failing to substantiate his allegations on corruption at the Subic Bay Freeport.

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