People, paper behind PCIJ’s report on Contractors: Candor from a few, thunderous silence from the rest

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By the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism

Editor’s Note: PCIJ’s multi-part report on civil works projects under the Duterte Administration is the composite work of seven PCIJ editors and reporters, and three student interns, over the last eight months. It builds on 11 gigabytes of documents and data that PCIJ has gathered from at least nine government agencies; reply letters and comments from contractors; and transcripts, notes, and video of interviews with contractors, senior government officials, and 31 other relevant sources.

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ACROSS a 75-day period, PCIJ made 135 phone calls and sent at least 42 letters to get the side of 21 contractors for its reports on the infrastructure projects bidded and awarded by the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) in the first two years of the Duterte administration.

From June 2018 to last Monday, Sept. 3, PCIJ also spoke with at least 31 individuals connected with the 21 companies for comments on the record. Some promised to send comments, but until posting time have failed to do so. Seven firms, however, either sent a written reply or granted interviews: Wee Eng Construction, Maer Summit Konstrukt, Legacy Construction, Ulticon Builders, CLTG Builders, Alfrego Builders & Supply, and Algon Engineering Construction Corp.

The PCIJ also spoke with contractors other than the 21 on its list, as well as former and current public officials with experience and insight into procurement of civil works projects. They discussed various matters at length, but stipulated that their comments were not for attribution.

The PCIJ staff had personally delivered letters to all the Davao-based contractors on its list, while the rest of the 20 received communication via registered mail. The same letters were also emailed to all the contractors cited in the stories.

In the correspondence, PCIJ had sought each of the firms’ comments on how they came to be among the country’s top contractors, why some of their projects had met with delay and slippage, and their procurement history with the DPWH.

Wee Eng managing officer Erlinda W. Go was the first to respond to PCIJ. Wee Eng is based in Davao City and is one of the top contractors in Region XI. On June 25, 2018, four days after the letter was sent, PCIJ received a letter from Go.

Ulticon Builders, also based in Davao City, took far longer to respond. In fact, it was only three weeks ago that PCIJ finally heard back from the company, through one of the firm’s lawyers. PCIJ’s letter to Ulticon was apparently first forwarded to the company’s managing officer, Manuel ‘Manny’ Gonzalez, who after several follow-ups referred PCIJ to Carlos ‘Charlie’ S. Gonzalez, the firm’s president. Charlie Gonzalez was in Europe when PCIJ contacted him. He said that he was attending a Volvo machineries road show and would inform PCIJ when he would be in Manila. A fortnight ago, PCIJ got the reply letter from the Ulticon lawyer.

Legacy Construction’s lawyer Apolonio Mayuga and a Maer Summit representative, meanwhile, met with PCIJ in person. Maer is among the top contractors in Davao while Legacy, which has its headquarters in Laguna, in the last two years has become among the biggest contractors nationwide.

Deciderio Go and Alfredo Go, proprietors of CLTG Builders and Alfrego Builders & Supply respectively, only met with PCIJ last Monday since requests were delivered to their offices more than two months ago. The father and son did not entertain PCIJ’s letters until after PCIJ’s interview with Special Assistant to the President Christopher Lawrence ‘Bong’ T. Go, who then spoke with his father Deciderio.

PCIJ received Algon’s written reply just last Monday, Sept. 3. The letter is dated Aug. 28, 2018 and is signed by Manuel F. Gonzaga, the firm’s operations manager.

Representatives of three firms — St. Gerrard Construction General Contractor & Development Corp., Equi-Parco Construction Company, and Hexamindz Corporation – had also said that they would respond or meet with PCIJ, but their promises yielded no results.

A fourth contractor, Alzam Enterprises Inc., said PCIJ should raise its queries about the firm with DPWH instead.

Contacted on July 2, Pacifico Discaya, St. Gerrard’s authorized managing officer, asked PCIJ to follow up after a few days so he could present “complete data.” PCIJ called him on July 5 and again on July 9; he said that he would try to give his answers within that week. As of press time, PCIJ has yet to get replies to its queries from St. Gerrard, which is based in Pasig City.

Equi-Parco’s records section supervisor Vanessa Fuentes, for her part, told PCIJ on July 3 to expect a response as soon as information is provided by “the office.” But that never came.

One of Equi-Parco’s founders is Ronnie Vicente C. Lagnada, the incumbent mayor of Butuan City, where the company is based. Among other things, PCIJ wanted to know if Lagnada had divested his interests from Equi-Parco.

In a follow-up call to the company, PCIJ was told simply that Lagnada is now part of the government and therefore no longer part of Equi-Parco. The woman speaking refused to give her name. Fuentes likewise withheld the woman’s name when queried later by PCIJ.

Section 9 of Republic Act No. 6713 or the “Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees” states that a public official or employee shall avoid conflicts of interest at all times: “When a conflict of interest arises, he shall resign from his position in any private business enterprise within thirty (30) days from his assumption of office and/or divest himself of his shareholdings or interest within sixty (60) days from such assumption. The same rule shall apply where the public official or employee is a partner in a partnership.”

PCIJ also tried reaching out to Lagnada via the Butuan City Mayor’s Office. All of the numbers published in the city government’s website were unreachable. PCIJ also asked for the Butuan local government unit’s number from the Department of the Interior and Local Government, but the agency apparently does not keep file of the LGU’s active number. PCIJ also sent a registered mail to the mayor’s office.

On July 2, 2018, Joralyn Cabanga of Hexamindz Corporation, another Davao city-based firm, said that the company had “no comment,” although it would send a formal response through email at 11 a.m. of the same day. PCIJ did not receive the promised email.

A staff named “Jackie” of Alzam Enterprises – also based in Davao City — meanwhile told PCIJ that the firm could not give comments and instead referred the Center directly to DPWH.

The remaining 10 firms — AB Aponesto Construction, Genesis 88 Construction, R. Semilla Construction and Marketing, Rely Construction and Supply, Maverick Builders Inc., O.G. Santos Construction, Three W Builders, Syndtite Construction, IBC International Builders Corporation, and M. Montesclaros Enterprises Inc. – did not respond in any manner at all to PCIJ queries despite multiple follow-up calls and emails.  — With reporting and research by Karol Ilagan, Malou Mangahas, John Reiner Antiquerra, Carolyn O. Arguillas, Vino Lucero, and Fern Felix; and with additional research by Yzabel Layson, Mildred Mira, and Alyssa Rafael, PCIJ, September 2018

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