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Biz Buzz: DOTC’s own Deguito

/ 12:23 AM April 11, 2016

FAR FROM the harsh media limelight, sharp suits and foreign emissaries omnipresent at the money laundering probe is the Department of Transportation and Communication’s own “fall guy” in the style of Rizal Commercial Banking Corp. branch manager Maia Deguito now at the center of the scandal.

We’re talking about former Metro Rail Transit 3 general manager Al Vitangcol III, who coined that term for himself and is waging a separate battle against big guns. But unlike Deguito and her pals, no one seems to be paying attention. We don’t blame anyone. There is little love for many in government posts, especially for the person overseeing the MRT-3, where years of government neglect and squabbling with the private sector owner have led to its sorry state that we see today.

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Vitangcol is facing graft charges over irregularities in the awarding of an MRT-3 maintenance contract in 2012. Among the chief accusations against Vitangcol, who was the lone DOTC official to be charged, was that he hid that fact that his uncle in-law was an incorporator of Philippine Trans Rail Management and Services Corp. (PH Trams), which won via a negotiated procurement.

Vitangcol told Biz Buzz that he was done keeping quiet because his name recently came up—in unfavorable and inaccurate circumstances—in the talking points of presidential candidate and former DOTC head Manuel “Mar” Roxas II, who interviewed him before he got the MRT-3 post.

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Vitangcol, of course, denied any wrongdoing. He reiterated that his uncle in-law had left the company before bidding and that as MRT-3 manager, he did not have the power to award the contract. That blame should go to the DOTC and its leaders, he argued.

Anyone following this story would note that Vitangcol’s fall from grace was steep and swift. He believed he got into the DOTC by his own talent; he claimed Roxas early on even commented that the department should hire “more clones of Vitangcol.” Today, he said even his current private law practice was being affected when clients find out he’s “that Al Vitangcol.”

The former MRT-3 chief said he was being set up as the fall guy when he became a media target. On the advice of the DOTC’s leadership, he did not respond to negative stories against him. He also denied that he was sacked, saying instead he was “relieved” before he decided to resign.

As news of his uncle in-law’s role in PH Trams spread, Vitangcol recounted that he confided in a DOTC undersecretary. Vitangcol floated that he should resign but he was told he should sit tight while waiting out his suspension. The next day, his resignation was already being sought. He said the same official months later endorsed the complaint against him with the Office of the Ombudsman. “I was a loyal soldier,” Vitangcol said.

Vitangcol said he has always played it smart and never threw out accusations without evidence first. But if all he’s saying is true, it seems others have played it smarter. Miguel R. Camus

Money-back guarantee

The $81-million money laundering scandal that exploded last February has hit the reputations of all parties it has touched, including Rizal Commercial Banking Corp. and its officers as well as the local casino industry. But not Kim Wong’s, apparently.

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Recall that the casino junket operator promised last week to return within 30 days another P450 million in laundered funds—money, he said, that was brought in by his Macau-based clients without having declared their dubious provenance.

And having declared that he would have to borrow money from friends to raise the funds that he wanted to return voluntarily to the Anti-Money Laundering Council (AMLC), one would expect that Wong’s friends would instantly make themselves scarce (knowing that he would be looking for friends to borrow money from).

Well, maybe not in the case of Solaire and its big boss, Enrique Razon Jr.

Biz Buzz learned that the swanky casino resort has extended Wong a P200-million credit line to help the businessman fulfill the promise he made at the Senate last week. Impressive. And it didn’t even take him a week to raise that amount, leaving only P250 million to be covered.

Apparently, the Solaire leadership values Wong’s patronage of its casinos in the past and is, perhaps, even a vote of confidence in his ability to continue bringing in high rollers in the future—but hopefully using less controversial funds, next time.

The question now is when will Wong turn the funds over to AMLC, to add to the $4.6-million and P38-million tranches he had already deposited with the agency for safekeeping? Shall we expect another turnover anytime soon? This week perhaps? Daxim L. Lucas

Going solar

THE CONSUNJI group, at present, is not yet a fan of solar power. The group says that nothing beats coal-fired power plants as far as the economics of power generation was concerned.

But the group recognized that solar could be the way of the future and was now considering to add this to its portfolio mix. As a curtain-raiser, Semirara Mining and Power Corp.’s subsidiary Sem-Calaca Power Corp. (SCPC) recently installed 38 solar street lamps worth P2.4 million in Barangay Baclaran, Balayan, Batangas. The 20-watt LED lamps can run for 12 hours using electricity converted from sunlight by photovoltaic panels. The energy generated by the panels are stored in batteries and can be used to power the lamps from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m.

Manufactured locally in Cavite, the street lamps are intended to help secure the safety and maintain peace and order for more than 2,500 residents, motorists and commuters in Baclaran. SCPC also plans to install similar solar street lamps in two other communities—barangay Dacanlao and San Rafael will have 34 and 32 solar street lamps, respectively.

“We believe that conventional and renewable energy can, and should, go together. What is important is finding the right energy mix to secure the growing power requirements of consumers,” said SCPC president and chief operating officer Victor Consunji.

SCPC is a baseload supplier to the Luzon grid, generating more than 500 megawatts of electricity from its coal-fired Calaca power plant in Batangas. Doris Dumlao-Abadilla

E-mail us at [email protected] Get business alerts and a preview of Biz Buzz the evening before it comes out. Text ON INQ BUSINESS to 4467 (P2.50/alert).

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TAGS: Business, Department of Transportation and Communication, economy, Maia Deguito, money laundering, News, RCBC
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