ENVIRONMENT Secretary Regina Lopez has been charged with graft and corruption before the Ombudsman for accepting gifts from a private company in exchange for a favor that secured for the firm a multi-million-peso government contract.
Lopez was accused of graft for receiving an all-expense paid trip to Paris amounting to €38,380 or P2.05 million and for misusing her powers to speed the approval of her French-friend’s solar farm project in Zamboanga.
Lopez’s French-friend and co-accused, Jean-Philippe Henry, then chief executive officer of Ecoglobal Inc., was granted a renewable energy service contract by the Energy department for a 30-megawatt solar farm after Lopez intervened on his behalf, said the complainant, Vienna Tañada, business development officer at Ecoglobal.
The contract would pave the way for a 300-mw solar farm that would also need permits from Lopez.
“Given the amount of influence that Secretary Lopez has over the entire process, I felt that it would therefore not be proper for her to be directly dealing with Mr. Henry and influencing the DoE for the processing of the application for an RESC,” Tañada said in her complaint.
Tañada, who filed the graft charges against Lopez and Henry on March 16, attested that as an employee of Ecoglobal, she was made by Henry to arrange the week-long trip to Paris for Lopez and her entourage.
This included obtaining a Schengen visa for Lopez and booking her flight and hotel accommodations at a five-star hotel in the heart of Paris.
The Paris trip, Tañada said, was to visit various wastewater treatment projects undertaken there that would involve renewable energy projects that may be undertaken by Ecoglobal.
Tañada submitted as evidence some screenshots of a conversation in a WhatsApp message thread between Henry and Lopez. Tañada was included in the thread.
“I was fully aware that… Secretary Lopez was assisting Mr. Henry in fast-tracking the release of the RESC approval with the DoE,” Tañada said.
A screenshot from a Sept. 6, 2016 conversation between Lopez and Henry, in Annex H of the complaint, went like this:
Lopez: Hi JP [Henry]. I just talked to Mario. Your RESC is under him. He said he’ll take care of it. Thanks again.
Henry: Good afternoon, Gena, thank you sooo much, you are the best! I’ll keep you posted. Thanks again.
From Sept. 29, 2016, a screenshot marked Annex J showed that Lopez also relayed to Henry her text conversation with Energy Department Director Mario Marasigan, to whom she pitched Henry’s solar farm project, while complaining about the delay in the contract’s approval.
Lopez dropped the President’s name to put pressure on the Energy Department officials:
Lopez: Mario [Marasigan] it’s important for the country to the route of renewable energy. Eco global is not even getting any subsidy for their putting in renewable is GOOOOOOOOOD for Zamboanga—and gooooood for the country!!!! It’s much better than coal where people get sick. I have the studies… So we should encourage this move. And it’s noooooot good that they have been waiting for the contract for 10 months. IT GOES AGAINST THE DIRECTIVES OF PRESIDENT DUTERTE…. It’s also not good to make promises you can’t keep. That’s how I operate… Okay Mario I will take your word for it. Remember the President has given very clear instructions on bureaucracy..xxx.
Tañada said the actions of Henry and Lopez made her feel uncomfortable, since Ecoglobal would eventually need clearance as well from the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, to be approved by Lopez.
Tañada also pointed to Lopez’s conflict of interest in surrounding herself with allies as undersecretaries, including one, Nicanor Jesus Perlas III, who became Ecoglobal president.
Lopez’s trip took place on Oct. 2 to 7, 2016 while the approval of Ecoglobal’s RESC was dated Oct. 3, 2016 or days after her Sept. 29 text conversation with DoE’s Marasigan and Perlas was elected Feb. 24, 2017, Tañada pointed out.
“It may be said that Secretary Lopez may be held liable for graft and corruption for violating RA 3019 after she received, in her official capacity, the favor of going on a trip to Paris, France, fully paid for by Ecoglobal for which she helped obtain the approval of an application for RESC and for which she shall eventually have to approve certain licenses and permits,” said Tañada,
“It is of no doubt that the trip was given to Secretary Lopez as a favor for helping Ecoglobal obtain the approval of the RESC application. In fact, the assistance Secretary Lopez gave Mr. Henry proved fruitful after the RESC was issued to Ecoglobal with her help,” Tañada said.
“It must be noted that on 03 October 2016, Secretary Gina Lopez was in Paris, France with Mr. Henry when the RESC approval was released,” Tañada said.
“Given the foregoing, it may be said that there is no doubt that both Secretary Regina Paz L. Lopez and Mr. Jean-Philippe Albert Guy Henry are liable for violations of Sections 3(a) and 4(b), respectively, of the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act or RA 3019,” Tañada said.
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