MANILA - Malacañang on Tuesday said the administration is not setting aside allegations made by sacked transportation assistant secretary Mark Tolentino regarding the Mindanao rail project.
Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque on Monday announced that President Rodrigo Duterte had fired Tolentino for supposedly seeking assistance from the Chief Executive' sister while on the job, in defiance of earlier orders.
Days before he was fired, Tolentino bared an alleged attempt by other transportation officials to “derail” the project to benefit certain contractors.
Tolentino alleged that Timothy John Batan, undersecretary for railways, wanted to borrow funds for the Mindanao rail project from China while funding for its initial phase was already included in the national budget.
Bidding for the initial phase of the project costing P36 billion is set to begin this June, Tolentino said.
Asked whether the government would look into Tolentino’s allegation, Roque said: “Hindi naman po isasantabi iyan (That would not be set aside)."
"Siguro talagang mabubuksan ang debate kung kinakailangan mangutang o hindi. Pero kung talaga pong may pera tayo, ibig sabihin lang po noon, magagamit natin iyong pera natin sa ibang mga proyekto. Tuwa lang natin kung mayroon tayong excess budget.”
(Perhaps this will open a debate soon on whether there is a need to borrow funds for that project or not. But if we have excess budget, then we can use it for other projects. We’d be happy to have excess budget.)
So far, there is no allegation of corruption yet, Roque said. He added that if Tolentino had concerns about the project, he should have brought this up with his superior, Transportation Secretary Arthur Tugade, instead of holding a press conference.
He also stressed that Tolentino was fired because he went straight to Duterte’s sister to ask for a favor, something the President prohibits.
The 2,000-kilometer Mindanao Railway will be the first of its kind in the south. The first phase, which will connect Tagum, Davao Del Norte to Davao City and to Digos, Davao del Sur is targeted to be completed in 2021, a year before Duterte leaves office.