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Biz Buzz: Watchdogs

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Biz Buzz: Watchdogs

/ 08:34 AM September 30, 2015

A relative of one of the country’s election watchdogs is said to have found a new racket as a big-time “fixer” at the Department of Transportation and Communications (DOTC). Known only by the pseudonym “Martin,” the alleged fixer is reportedly a regular fixture in the agency who brags of close ties to DOTC officials with privileged access to the procurement and awarding of multibillion-peso contracts.

Martin’s “M.O.” or modus operandi, according to DOTC insiders, involves “facilitation services” for the quick approval of projects in exchange for a fee that reportedly ranges between P3 million and P5 million.

Dozens of contractors exasperated by the agonizingly slow pace of project approvals at DOTC are reportedly easy prey for Martin and his cohorts. The racket reportedly works this way: Armed with inside information about a certain bidding, Martin approaches participating contractors to offer his “services.” These services range from quicker issuances of notices to proceed, waiver of bidding requirements or immediate dismissal of endless motions for reconsideration filed by losing bidders, among others.

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While Martin’s success rate remains unclear, contractors who refuse to engage his services reportedly get the raw end of the deal.

Somehow, Martin—through his influential contacts—is able to delay or even cancel scheduled biddings at the last minute, thereby giving the impression that he is truly “connected.” After getting a preview of his “capability,” bidders are more open to dealing with him the next time around.

The public may never know just how many have been victimized by this illicit trade. For fear of reprisal, blacklisting or sheer embarrassment, contractors are tightlipped about the issue.

But in fairness to Transport Secretary Joseph Emilio Abaya, it seems he is unaware of this racket that has been going on under his nose for quite some time.

Pundits say that snail-paced deliberations in the name of “Daang Matuwid” and the “teka-teka” approach at DOTC have created an underground economy of sorts where unscrupulous officials in cahoots with racketeers like Martin are thriving.

While the Commission on Elections (Comelec) is under close scrutiny by so-called poll watchdogs, people are wondering who’s watching DOTC against racketeers? Perhaps, it’s time for civil society and anti-graft groups to watch the agency. But then again, this might be a losing proposition as Martin’s relatives might end up watching him.–Daxim L. Lucas

Artistic heir

We often hear about his nephews, and sometimes about his daughters, but not as much about his sons.

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It seems that the two sons of businessman Roberto V. Ongpin, a.k.a. RVO, both have a stronger calling for the arts than running a business empire. These days, however, we’ll hear more about RVO’s son Julian, who has opened Julian Ongpin Young Artists (Joya), a new contemporary art gallery which seeks to showcase emerging international artists alongside a select stable of local talents.  RVO has obviously been supportive of Julian’s foray: Joya is nestled at the second floor of Alphaland Makati Place.

Julian describes himself as a “fanatical graffiti artist” as a teenager growing up in Sydney, Australia. On the paternal side, he is a direct descendant of the first great Filipino painter, Damian Domingo. Julian also draws inspiration from many avid art enthusiasts from both paternal and maternal sides of his family. Great-great grandfather Roman was the friend and patron of many Filipino artists and helped fund the Philippine revolution. Great grandfather Alfonso Ongpin had a vast collection of Lunas, Hidalgos, Amorsolos and other renowned artists, most of which are now with the Araneta family and displayed in the Lopez Museum.

Julian’s late mother, Della Stone, is also an art enthusiast while his older brother, Stephen, is one of the leading authorities in the world for his expertise in old master drawings. Julian cites his brother’s gallery in London—Stephen Ongpin Fine Art—as inspiration in setting up his own space in Metro Manila.

Joya’s debut show, which will open tomorrow, is titled “Frontiers” and will feature emerging Australian artist Henry Curchod with his series “Reductions” and established Filipino commercial photographer Artu Nepomuceno with his inaugural abstract offering “Psychedelic Warfare,” described as a “chronicled exploration of the phases of life lost and gained in a single process.”

“And so while it may not be immediately evident, the blood and passion of artists flow in my veins. Like those who have come before me, I hope to shine a light that is both refined and sincere, and in this way share something great with the world,” Julian says in a note about himself announcing Joya’s debut.–Doris Dumlao-Abadilla

Fork in the road

The $2.9-billion tax issue on the Malampaya gas platform operations seems to have had a worrying effect on the country’s investors and may have inadvertently set branches of government against each other.

At the recent Department of Energy (DOE) budget hearing in Congress, Bayan Muna party list Rep. Neri Colmenares asked whether the department had taken the Malampaya consortium’s side of the issue.

DOE OIC Zenaida Monsada replied that it was not so much as having taken the consortium’s side but that the department stood by its implementation of Service Contract No. 38 (SC38), which covers the Malampaya gas platform operation off Palawan. That is, that the taxes paid by the consortium are deducted from the 60-percent share of the government in the proceeds of the gas operation.

Monsada noted that such an incentive was promised to the foreign investors at a time that the Philippines had no commercial gas operations and had no expertise to develop such resources on its own. “We had to be competitive. Without those incentives, we may not even have Malampaya now,” she said.

While the tax issue is now being brought to international arbitration in Singapore, sources said “backdoor” channels were still being explored to resolve it—preferably before key officials get distracted by the election fever around the fourth quarter of 2015.

Some have hinted that this was driving a wedge between branches of government, with the Commission on Audit on one side (seeking allegedly unpaid taxes) and the DOE on the other (being the implementing agency of SC38). What has energy industry stakeholders more worried, however, is how the issue will affect existing and future energy service contracts. That is, if the taxes government says you have to pay now will not be recomputed (and turn out larger) in the future.

The lack of large investor-participants during the last Petroleum Energy Contracting Round for new exploration sites had a silent message, industry observers pointed out: We are waiting and watching.–Riza T. Olchondra

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TAGS: Arts, biddings, business incentives, DoTC, Energy, fixer, Joseph Emilio Abaya, Julian Ongpin, Malampaya, Martin, oil and gas-upstream activities, Ongpin sons, Roberto Ongpin, Stephen Ongpin, taxes
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