December 3, 2019

#2019SEAGames: Fact-checking Marlon Ramos' Inquirer exposé vs BCDA

Inquirer reporter Marlon Ramos, on the 02 December 2019 article “Deal to construct P13-B gov’t complex, sports hub at New Clark City questioned”, said that based on “documents,” Bases Conversion and Development Authority (BCDA) and Malaysian MTD Capital Berhad (MTD) entered into an anomalous deal.

The deal in question is the New Government Administrative Center (NGAC) and Sports Complex project in New Clark City in Tarlac, i.e., the same sports complex used today for the 2019 SEA Games.

Let’s analyze.

BCDA-MTD Agreement OK’d despite OGCC objections

Ramos wrote, "“BCDA… signed a joint-venture agreement with MTD… despite getting an adverse legal opinion issued by the Office of the Government Corporate Counsel (OGCC) in early 2018, records showed.”

Ramos then quoted former OGCC head Rudolf Philip Jurado, who issued a 30 January 2018 legal opinion stating that the NGAC’s Sports Complex segment “as a rule” should both be subject to public bidding. 

former OGCC head Rudolf Jurado
Note that the entire writeup doesn’t contain any direct quote from the supposed records and documents, and the same documents weren’t embedded in the article either, so I cannot check if Ramos understood the document correctly, or if he based his article on flawed understanding.

I have written exposés since 2015, some of which were used as resource material for congressional hearings and police/NBI investigations. As a rule, I provide the source document, especially if it’s publicly available in the first place. That way, readers can verify for themselves the accuracy of my observations.

Ramos didn’t do this, even if the credibility of his entire article depends on what’s in this document.

I suspected that Ramos wasn’t telling the whole story, especially because Jurado used the term “as a rule,” meaning that government projects usually go through to public bidding, but not all the time.

In short, exceptions exist. Hence, Ramos should have checked first if the Sports Complex falls under any of the legal exceptions or not, but he didn’t. Ramos reinforced my suspicion when he wrote, “But [Jurado] said the construction of the NGAC had complied with government rules on joint-venture projects,” with Jurado saying that the sports complex should be a part of the Joint Venture.

Hence, Ramos contradicted his entire hypothesis when the article states that no other than his primary source Jurado said the project is legally compliant.

If Ramos wanted to poke holes on the project and based on Jurado’s statement, Ramos should’ve checked if BCDA made the sports complex part of the BCDA-MTD joint venture.

Ramos even quoted Jurado as saying, “It should be noted that the joint venture should cover the entire project and not only NGAC.”

Did BCDA include the Sports Complex in the joint venture?

That’s what Ramos should have explored, but he didn’t.

Ugh. Marlon.

Differing OGCC opinions

Ramos either misunderstood or worse, totally failed to understand the OGCC opinions.

As explained earlier, Jurado’s January 2018 opinion states that the sports complex project is compliant, with the caveat that it must be made part of the BCDA-MTD Joint Venture. Thus, the question is whether BCDA made it part of the Joint Venture or not.

BCDA President and CEO Vivencio "Vince" Dizon
In a 03 December 2019 press conference, Dizon said BCDA “believed that we already addressed the concerns of the OGCC in the final joint venture agreement that was signed in February 2018….In response to this, BCDA made the business decision, which… [it] is empowered to do under its charter… [to] give due course to this (project).”

In short, BCDA attempted to comply with the January 2018 OGCC opinion, and it believes it did. As to whether it complied, however, is another matter, so hold on to that thought for now.

“After the clarifications were made, GOCC said, ‘BCDA, tama ginawa niyo (you did right),” Dizon said.

In the same presser, Government Corporate Counsel Justice Elpidio Vega seconded Dizon’s statement, when he said OGCC issued an October 2018 opinion affirming that BCDA complied with the conditions set in the earlier January 2018 opinion.

current OGCC head Elpidio Vega
Vega said, “The contract review which was issued way back in January (2018) was indeed not a negative opinion, but in fact, it approved and gave the go signal to BCDA. The only problem then was more on the modality on the procurement, and that was, however, explained expertly well by BCDA in going into the joint venture. We studied it, and we found that the same is a joint venture and has passed the rules and regulations regarding it. That’s why in October (2018), we gave the affirmative opinion. I hereby confirm that the same is above-board, and we found no legal impediment to its execution.”

“The first opinion gave the go signal to BCDA, and in that instance, the BCDA is on the right track,” Vega added.

That is, the January 2018 opinion, on which Ramos’ entire article was anchored, actually allowed BCDA to proceed, but on the condition that the sports facilities be made part of the BCDA-MTD Joint Venture Agreement. BCDA complied with the condition, and months later, OGCC said what BCDA did is correct.

In short, Marlon Ramos completely misunderstood the January 2018 opinion and proceeded to write fake news based on this colossal misunderstanding. 

Time Constraints

Dizon said the government was in a rush to build facilities for the 2019 SEA Games, given that it agreed to host the event only two years before schedule.

Dizon said, “We were told that we needed to build facilities that we would need for the Southeast Asian Games. Remember that the proponent submitted a proposal without those sports facilities to be built.” 

The New Clark City Athletics Stadium
“It was BCDA who said, ‘We need those sports facilities to be part of this because we will be hosting the 2019 Southeast Asian Games and we need those facilities post-haste. This was 2017, then 2018. You know how long it takes to construct a 20,000-seater stadium?” Dizon added.

Dizon explained that BCDA had to start moving and building the facilities for the Philippines to avoid international embarrassment.

BCDA-MTD’s “Criminal Intent“

Ramos also quoted an anonymous source that alleges criminal intent and intention to defraud the government, which is a pretty loaded accusation for an article containing zero documentary evidence.

Ramos wrote, “The source said MTD used the ‘Filipino people’s money’ to finance the project that would provide profits from three different sources—the original project cost, the ‘reasonable costs and returns,’ and rental fees.”

Ramos quoted the anonymous source as saying that the deal is “certainly disadvantageous to the government.”

New Clark Aquatic Center
“MTD used the ‘Filipino people’s money’” implies unjustly used public funds to finance the project.

We all know that foreign investors who come to Philippine shores are legally allowed to borrow from local banks. That isn’t new.

MTD would have committed an injustice only if it ran away with the money, or if the loan got a sovereign guarantee, i.e., the government told the lender that it'd pay for the loan in case MTD fails to do so.

MTD is still here, and Ramos didn’t provide proof that the loan has a sovereign guarantee.

BCDA President and CEO Vivencio Dizon, in the same presser, said the government did not guarantee the loan.

So how, exactly, was the loan unjust? Ramos didn’t explain that.

That article is bad journalism, Marlon. That is bad journalism.

To make matters worse, the claim that BCDA and MTD are cheating the government is an extraordinary claim, and extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.

Ramos’ evidence was just an anonymous source. Ramos took a gargantuan leap of logic, possibly out of the need to meet his article’s deadline. Yes, Ramos’ source said the deal is anomalous, but Marlon didn’t even bother to ask the anonymous source HOW EXACTLY it is so.

What does a responsible journalist do when his article is still half-baked and the deadline is at hand? 

A responsible journalist DOES NOT submit that half-baked article and submits something else instead. 

But I guess half-baked articles are good enough for the Inquirer. [ThinkingPinoy]

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