Gloria Macapagal ArroyoMANILA – Former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo devised a scheme to overprice by tens of billions the P111-billion President’s Bridge Program, Senator Serge Osmeña said last week.

In a statement, the senator said the other anomalous cases such as the National Broadband Network-ZTE and North Rail deals pale in comparison with what he called “serial plunder.”

He said, “these P111 billion serial scams are eight times the NBN-ZTE contract and five times the North Rail contract.”

He called the 14 bridge contracts as the “grandmother of all scams.”

He said the Filipino people would have saved around P61 billion were it not for the scheme.

Osmeña has asked the Senate Blue Ribbon committee to probe the bridge contracts, which were supposedly misrepresented as having been funded through the Official Development Assistance (ODA).

In a text message, Elena Bautista-Horn, Mrs. Arroyo’s spokesperson, said: “We won’t even bother to speculate on the motive and timing of the latest accusations of Senator Serge Osmeña. The President’s Bridge Program spans four administrations.”

She said that the bridge program was undertaken not just during the Arroyo administration but also during the three previous ones, so the accusation also affects previous presidents as well as the governments of Britain and France.

“Tandaan po natin na dumaan sa masusing proseso ang lahat ng kontratang ito. Kaya di lamang ang dating pangulo ang pinaparatangan ni Senaor Osmeña, kundi ang mga nakaraan at kasalukuyang pangulo, ang mga ibang gobyerno gaya ng Britanya at Pransia, pati ang daan-daang mga tapat at marangal na kawani na nagaral ng mga proyekto,” she also said.

She urged those interested in the program to check the documents with the implementing agencies.

Meanwhile, Attorney Ferdinand Topacio, Arroyo’s lawyer, challenged Osmeña to file the case with the court rather than with the committee, “which is highly politicized.”

“He’s shooting his mouth off. If he really has the evidence, then he should file it in court. It’s just a privilege speech, it’s one man’s crazy opinion,” he told ABS-CBNnews.com

He said the timing of Osmeña is suspect. Bringing the case before the Blue Ribbon committee will only push senators to grandstand ahead of the 2013 polls.

Topacio said he does not know if the former president has already been apprised on the matter. He said, however, he has already discussed the issue with Arroyo’s husband, the former First Gentleman Mike Arroyo.

Osmeña said Arroyo and other officials formulated a complex scheme that would push the costs of the bridges beyond fair market prices.

These were disguised as “local expenses,” which averaged 16 percent to 21 percent of the total project cost amounting to around P20 billion, he alleged.

“Such a fee is big considering that each steel bridge is estimated by the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) – and I think they were underestimating it – to cost around P560,000 per linear meter. But our concrete bridge costs only P240,000 per linear meter,” Osmeña said.

He asked why the Arroyo administration had to buy the more expensive steel bridges when the stable ones, such as the Sykway, are made of concrete.

“The Filipino people would have spent only P50 billion instead of P111 billion if we had hired Filipino producers to build the same length of concrete bridges,” he said.

He noted the steel bridges are now “rusting” in various parts of the country.

By justifying the projects as ODA-funded, these did not go through public bidding, he added.

“Mrs. Arroyo must explain to the Filipino people these very anomalous series of contracts that they forged with foreign companies. She and her cohorts could be held liable for plunder because this involves P111 billion in people’s money,” he added. (ABS-CBN News)