GOTCHA By Jarius Bondoc | The Philippine Star | April 14, 2014
My article Friday, “Who’s Afraid of MRT-3 Extort Investigation?” triggered reactions from certain dramatis personae. It was a recap, from published reports, of what have happened in the 12 months since Czech Amb. Josef Rychtar reported to Transport Sec. Joseph Abaya the $30-million extortion attempt, to wit:
• Rychtar and Inekon CEO Josef Hušek both gave verifiable info for the authorities to probe. Like, what is the connection of MRT-3 head Al Vitangcol to Liberal Party man Wilson de Vera? The Czechs had alleged that after dining with them on July 9, 2012, de Vera asked for the stupendous bribe in behalf of Vitangcol. They alleged too that Vitangcol has a family corporation into which Inekon was being forced to invest. And, that after Inekon rejected both exactions, Vitangcol granted to de Vera’s company a temporary contract to maintain the MRT-3. There must be records and dates for the NBI to pursue, yet it has not rendered any report. Meanwhile, Abaya has reinstated Vitangcol after a hasty internal, closed-door inquiry. Is there a cover-up?
• Right after Rychtar blew the whistle in Apr. 2013, news “leaked” that presidential kin supposedly were the ones involved with Inekon. Yet no proof was forwarded. President Noynoy Aquino’s sister Ballsy, with spouse Eldon Cruz, merely had pilgrimaged to Prague earlier on Rychtar’s invitation. Cousin Jorge Aquino Lichauco, as then-Malacañang consultant for transportation, only happened to write about railways to Rene Limcaoco, a Usec of then-Sec. Mar Roxas. Rychtar, in letters to P-Noy and the foreign office, had cleared them of wrongdoing. Yet, they kept being linked. Reports were that it was a diversionary ploy.
To the latter portion, Lichauco sent a clarification (below). It is a plain presentation of verifiable info (which I have crosschecked). If the authorities would only investigate, as Lichauco was said to have asked once, they will see the picture. And if truth-tellers prevail, then the serial plunderers and spin masters will be unmasked, along with kibitzers and power trippers. Lichauco’s e-mail:
“Dear Mr. Bondoc,
“In your column, you stated that I was a consultant for Inekon for the supply and maintenance of trains to the MRT. I would appreciate if you would provide me the opportunity to air my side of the issue, and disprove what I consider inaccurate press reports:
“1. I was never a consultant for Inekon, nor have I represented this company in any way.
“2. I was a former consultant for Executive Secretary Ochoa and was on call to monitor various projects of the DOTC. Over the last three years, I have met with officials of DOTC only twice — in April 2012 and in April 2013 — both meetings lasted no longer than one-and-a-half hours. Except for these two instances, I have not had any other meeting with any official or employee of DOTC.
“3. After my April 2012 meeting with Usec. Rene Limcaoco, I summarized our discussion in an email. Part of the email was to confirm whether he wanted me to contact Yorgos Psinakis, Inekon’s Philippine representative, to submit a summary of the Inekon’s proposal that was presented to DOTC in the previous years. In the same email, I stated very clearly that I was not endorsing Inekon, as I did ‘not have a view on the company’s capability.’ Usec. Limcaoco responded that he wanted to meet with Inekon because he ‘wanted to move this (project) forward.’ I have never attended any meeting between DOTC and Inekon, nor was present at any meeting with any current or potential suppliers to DOTC.
“4. In April 2013, I met with Sec. Abaya. During this meeting, I offered Sec. Abaya a copy of my notes consisting of five pages on the technical guidelines for a light railway system. This document was sourced from the American Public Transportation System (APTA) website, specifically from a section entitled ‘Light Rail Vehicle Request for Proposals (RFP) Procurement Guideline.’ This was in no way a sample ‘terms of reference.’ I am certain that comprehensive terms of reference, particularly for a project like the MRT, can go beyond three hundred pages long.
“I have already presented my side to other columnists and media outlets that carried this story when I was approached to get my side. I have also mentioned to them that the clarification regarding my role should come from the DOTC who well know my level of involvement.
“After reading your column early this morning, I immediately decided to contact you and come out with these statements in the hope that this will somehow set things straight. Sincerely, Jorge Lichauco”
Hmm, why indeed has the DOTC never clarified these points in the past 12 months?
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Presidential Spokesman Edwin Lacierda, meanwhile, denied reports of being an LP officer. “Everybody thinks I am an LP member,” he texted, “but I have no political affiliations, only civil society links via the Black & White Movement.”
If many reports (mis)state Lacierda as a party man, it’s because he keeps defending criticized LP members in the Cabinet: Roxas, Abaya, etc. On the MRT-3 extortion scandal, he and Press Sec. Sonny Coloma curiously are dissonant. Coloma “welcomes” a forthcoming House inquiry into the alleged scam; Lacierda is bashing potential witness Rychtar this early as “a liar.”
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Speaking of which, unnamed members of the House committee on good government keep pounding that Rychtar’s account of the $30-million extortion try is unsigned, therefore worthless. Other news bits claim that even his statement to the NBI is unsigned, the reason the agency has not acted on it.
That’s a lie. Rychtar’s submission to the NBI is duly signed and notarized (I have obtained a copy, and confirmed it with the notary public, Atty. Nicanor Jimeno). Rychtar swore by it on Oct. 11, 2013, then handed it to an NBI courier. The NBI also took Vitangcol and de Vera’s counter-affidavits of denial; Hušek gave his in Jan. 2014. So why no action to this day?
In the statement, Rychtar recounts his and Hušek’s dine-out with Vitangcol, de Vera, and certain Manolo “Boyet” Maralit and Marlo de la Cruz. Then followed a meeting at Rychtar’s residence with the same cast, except Vitangcol who allegedly took part only by phone while de Vera broached the $30 million and forcible partnership. Next day supposedly was a meeting with Vitangcol and de Vera at the former’s office, during which the two items were reiterated – and rejected.
Last Dec. Rychtar gave the House committee a copy, also on his embassy’s official stationery. While it indeed was unsigned, it came with a signed covering note attesting to its sameness as the NBI filing. “I don’t go around giving out signed affidavits,” Rychtar told The STAR. “I thought they’d initiate an investigation based on the contents, not the signature.”
Hušek corroborated Rychtar. Contrary to disparaging reports, his account is officially acknowledged, as notarial affirmation, by Philippine consul to Prague Juan Dayang Jr.
Rep. Oscar Rodriguez, committee head, has invited Rychtar to attest to his papers in a hearing late next month. Also invited are the characters named therein, and Abaya.