Lacson so terribly wrong: New Senate building’s cost could be more than P10B

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IN his press statement tweeted Trump-style, Sen. Ping Lacson said the planned new Senate building “will just cost P4.58 billion (if I remember correctly).”

He’s right to doubt his memory. He forgot that the cost of the land where the opulent Senate headquarters is to be built will cost, as he himself had reported months ago, P1.8 billion. Using figures that Lacson himself provided, the “Bagong Senado,” as they call what would be a monument to our political elite’s profligacy, will cost us taxpayers at the most conservative estimate, P6.4 billion.

He forgot also that that P4.58 billion is the winning designer AECOM’s estimate only for the new building’s skeletal structure. 

Lacson also even assumes that the lot seller, the Bases Conversion Development Authority, won’t decide to instead bid out the property to get a higher price than the P98,000 per square meter the senator had said the BCDA had agreed to sell to the Senate the lot.

That construction cost is so underestimated. Lacson should have consulted his colleagues to find out if that cost per square meter of P53,302 for a state-of-the-art, “prestige building,” as projects of this kind are referred to in the industry, is at all realistic.

Sen. Franklin Drilon reported that his pet project, the Iloilo Convention Center—a much less lavishly appointed building—cost P64,000 per square meter. Built in 2014, that would by 2019, when construction of the new Senate building starts, at the very least be equivalent to P86,000. With the building having 8.6 hectares of floor space (would you believe?), its construction cost would be P7.4 billion.

Note that according to the parameters distributed in the design competition, the cost to be estimated by the competitors involves only the “building structure and the electro-mechanical components of the facility.” In short, Lacson’s P4.58 billion cost for the building will only be for its skeletal structure, and won’t include such things as the elevators, the floor tiles, the glass windows, the painting – every single thing builders under-emphasize when they call these “finishing.”

Artist’s rendition of planned ‘Bagong Senado’

So land cost (P1.8 billion) plus construction cost using Iloilo prices (P7.4 billion) plus bare-bones finishing and fixtures (P2 billion) would cost P10 billion. But of course these are just details for Lacson. Anyway he’s not footing the bill.

Or Lacson should have consulted with Sen. Nancy Binay, who can explain why the Makati II Building, construction of which started in 2008 and completed in 2012 cost P69,549 per square meter which at 2019 prices would be P90,000 per square meter. (The Commission on Audit report did not question the building’s cost but only alleged that the project was undertaken without the necessary approvals, mainly by the Makati City Council.)

We need not belabor this point. If Lacson simply consulted with construction businessmen, he would have been told that construction costs, including finishing and furnishings of a building in the Makati and Bonifacio Global City area, would be in the P90,000 to P120,000 per sq.m. range. That would mean that the total costs, including the P1.8 billion land cost, for his Bagong Senado would P9.5 to P12 billion.

What is worrying about this Bagong Senado is that costs for almost every single major government construction project escalate after the construction starts, with the government practically forced to continue the project way above the initial estimates of how much taxpayers will pay for these.

When it was first announced, the Iloilo Convention Center was to cost only P300 million. When it was completed several years later, total cost had ballooned to P747 million. The project cost for the Makati II building was originally P470 million, but ballooned to P2.5 billion.

This is not necessarily due to corruption but to the fact that construction costs, especially for government projects, are notoriously usually underestimated, in order for a bidder to claim his bid was the lowest. It would not be so farfetched, because of “unforeseen circumstances” in the next three years that the “Bagong Senado” will cost us taxpayers P15 or even P20 billion.

The Senate plans to ask for an initial P2 billion to go on with the project. We taxpayers have all the right to demand that these 24 senators give us the most accurate estimate on how much their new offices will really cost.

I don’t think Lacson will find a single taxpayer—except the senators—who will say that taxpayers will be happy to spend P10 billion for the offices of 24 presidential wannabes.


Facebook: Rigoberto Tiglao
Twitter: @bobitiglao