The camp of Liberal Party standard bearer Manuel “Mar” Roxas II on Sunday denied Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte's allegation that he is extending special treatment and granting favors to a businessman who owns the aircraft he's been using in the campaign trail.
Akbayan party-list Rep. Barry Gutierrez, spokesman of the LP-led Koalisyon ng Daang Matuwid, said Roxas leases the aircraft from from SR Mining Inc. (SRMI) owner Francis Eric Gutierrez. All their transactions were above board, he added.
“Several planes are leased by the campaign from a commercial aviation company partly owned by Mr. Gutierrez, and these are fully accounted for,” he said in a text message.
LP political affairs chief and Caloocan City Rep. Edgar Erice shrugged off Duterte's allegation that Roxas' use of Gutierrez's private jets reek of corruption.
“All presidentiables use planes of businessmen engaged in oil, power industry, etc. Even Duterte uses private planes, choppers. [There is nothing wrong] as long as they're paying for it,” he said.
Last Friday, Duterte accused Roxas of corruption for leasing planes from Gutierrez, whose mining company had been fined by the government in 2007 for over-extracting nickel ore.
"You (Roxas) have been using his (Gutierrez's) planes. I have personally seen him (Roxas) use that plane in Davao. If that is not corruption, then what do you call that?” he told reporters at the Davao International Airport.
"Sabi ko nga akala ko mga bilyonaryo ito, hindi ito mga corrupt (So I thought that billionaires are not corrupt)," the mayor added.
According to news reports, SRMI and its sister companies, San R Mining and Galeo Equipment and Mining Corp.-- which were classified as small-scale mining firms-- extracted around 1.8 million metric tons of nickel ore from August 2006 to September 2007.
They were ordered to pay a P7-million fine for overextraction since the law only allows small-scale nickel mining firms to extract 50,000 MT of ore annually, or a total of 150,000 for the three companies.
Despite being fined for overextraction, Duterte said Gutierrez was able to continue with his business because of his links to Roxas.
"Hanggang ngayon hindi nahinto because of the protection of Roxas," he said.
While confirming that Gutierrez is backing Roxas' candidacy, the spokesperson of the administration coalition said there is no truth to Duterte's allegation that the businessman is doing illegal business.
“Eric Gutierrez is a supporter. That he is 'into illegal mining practice' is pure spin on Mayor Duterte's part. And there is absolutely no truth to the claim that he is being 'protected,'” the lawmaker said.
Contrary to Duterte's claim, Erice, a friend and business partner of Gutierrez, said their mining company has not been involved in any irregularities.
“We're one of the few mining firms with ISO 14000 [certification] for environment and this year we are the presidential awardee for environmental safety,” he said.
The lawmaker said that even though he is allied with the administration, he will not use his connections to gain favors for his business.
“We have not asked nor do we intend to ask for any favors from President Aquino or Mar Roxas. What we want is a level playing in business so the gains of this administration may continue,” he said. — APG, GMA News