SELEGNA Holdings Corp., the private company that bagged the contract to build and operate UST’s four-level carpark in 2004, is owned by the same group of people behind Asian Construction and Development Corp. or AsiaKonstrukt, the favored contractor of the Expo Pilipino theme park of the Ramos administration.

Touted as the Philippines’ show window for the 1998 Centennial festivities, the park ended up mothballed when Joseph Estrada took over the presidency and ordered an investigation into the alleged “Expo scam.” Amid corruption allegations, Estrada ordered it shut in 1999 and refused to pay AsiaKonstrukt.

A Senate Blue Ribbon Committee probe led by Sen. Aquilino Pimentel, Jr. accused Centennial organizers of awarding the Expo Pilipino deal to AsiaKonstrukt without public bidding, and recommended graft charges against the National Centennial Commission head, former vice-president Salvador Laurel, AsiaKonstrukt president Edgardo Angeles, and several others.

In December 2000, however, then Ombudsman Aniano Desierto cleared Angeles. State prosecutors recommended charges only against Laurel before the Sandiganbayan anti-graft court. Laurel died of cancer in 2004 before he could clear his name.

No expense was spared for the 60-hectare Expo Pilipino project for Clark field in Pampanga, which had a teflon-roofed amphitheater, and a Spanish colonial plaza with a replica of Barasoain Church, among other attractions.

Laurel was accused of raising the project cost to P1.165 billion, at the benefit of AsiaKonstrukt, from just P248 million; and paying more than P300 million to the contractor without a public bidding for the project. He had argued that the Expo Pilipino involved private companies and that the Centennial Commission was “racing against time.”

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“We had barely eleven months to finish the construction in time for the celebration of the centennial – which was an intransferrable date and national pride was at stake,” he said two years after the Ombudsman recommended graft charges against him.

Pimentel, in a 1999 Senate speech reporting on the results of his probe, called the Expo Pilipino a “callous expenditure” and among the “extravagant, unnecessary and ill-advised projects that may well fit the mores of the megalomaniac pharaohs of Egypt.”

The links between AsiaKonstrukt and Selegna Holdings are well-documented.

Selegna Holdings, court records showed, agreed to lend P80 million to AsiaKonstrukt despite its own financial problems, and admitted that the latter is a sister company. Both firms have the same owners – members of Edgardo Angeles’ family.

AsiaKonstrukt claimed that the government still owed it around P1.5 billion, particularly for the Expo’s “Freedom Ring” or amphitheater.

State auditors, however, believe the state’s liabilities to the construction company stand at only around P95 million, with the huge discrepancy due to disagreements over computations, according to the last financial report of First Centennial Clark Corp. (FCCC), the joint venture between the government and AsiaKonstrukt for the Expo Pilipino, in 2005.

That year, Expo Pilipino was transferred by President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo to the Clark Development Corp., which runs the economic zone, from a state company under the Department of Trade and Industry.

It remains unclear how the government plans to settle the liabilities to AsiaKonstrukt now that it is under Clark, considering that the ecozone is also claiming around P293 million in unpaid rent from FCCC, documents showed.

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In any case, Clark has auctioned off a 25-year lease contract for a portion of the Expo Pilipino, with the winner, the Australian International Training and Management Group, proposing to construct a vocational school worth P1.3 billion.

Aside from the UST carpark concession, the Angeles family owns an aquaculture farm in Nueva Ecija and a recruitment outfit that sent 2,000 workers to Algeria last year. It managed to secure three projects this year – the dismantling of a Clark power plant, expansion of a hospital in Dagupan, Pangasinan, and electromechanical works for a biomass power plant in Quezon.

The Angeles family also owns a separate company, Avent Holdings Corp., formed in 2005 to manage the popular Harbour View Square commercial center beside the Cultural Center of the Philippines on Roxas Boulevard.

Avent Holdings, also headed by Edgardo Angeles, charges a cheaper parking rate (P30 for the first three hours and P10 for every succeeding hour compared to the UST rate of P29 for the first two hours and P11.50 for every succeeding hour), and even grants discounts to Harbour Square customers.

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