SENATE President Vicente Sotto 3rd and 10 of his colleagues were smiling from ear-to-ear during the groundbreaking ceremony last Monday for the Senate’s new building in the country’s newest business district, the Bonifacio Global City.
In a tweet in June last year after I first reported on plans for the body’s luxurious new building, Sen. Panflio Lacson, who headed the committee that proposed the project, claimed that it would cost only P4.6 billion.
News dispatches on the groundbreaking event yesterday belied Lacson’s claim, reporting that Senate sources said it would cost P8.9 billion. I reported last year that construction-industry sources who checked the building’s specs — which had state-of-the-art “green-building” features — estimated that it would cost P10 billion.
I consulted my sources yesterday. With cement and steel-bar prices likely to go up because of the administration’s massive infrastructure program, and the economy’s robustness that would lead to a boom in demand for new private building, construction costs in the BGC area is likely to rise from last year’s P120,000 per square meter to at least P150,000 in the course of its three-year of construction period.
How much then would the new Senate 11-story headquarters with an 8.5-hectare floor area cost? P13 billion. Plus the P2 billion cost of the land — P15 billion.
There are so many things that immediately come to mind on how P15 billion could be better used for our people.
The most urgent at this time would be to repair our airstrip in Pag-asa Island, transform it into one that can accommodate C-130s, and build fortifications and even tourist hotels (as Taiwan has done in its Taiping island) there. Why is this urgent?
Because the stupid suit against China that the previous Yellow regime filed has prodded not only that superpower, but Taiwan and Vietnam to fortify their islands — many of which, including our Kalayaan Group of Islands, the arbitration decision ruled as not “islands” but mere rocks.
These countries therefore have concluded that what would belie that suit’s ruling that these are just rocks and not islands, would be to turn them, through massive reclamation projects, into huge islands — and let the faces of former Foreign Affairs secretary Alberto del Rosario and Supreme Court Justice Antonio Carpio go black and blue shouting that these are just “artificial islands.”
Other uses I can think of for the P15 billion to be used for the Senate’s offices: a vaccination program to free our population from the scourge of measles; the purchase of a thousand dialysis machines distributed throughout the archipelago to extend the lives of an estimated 4 million Filipinos with diabetes; the decongestion of EDSA through new bypass or even elevated roads; a new fleet of state-of-the-art attack helicopters, the key weapons system that would end insurgency in our country; permanent soup kitchens in every major city to feed the poorest; the decongestion of our city jails that has left the accused — not yet the guilty — living like animals.
These are just samples of how P15 billion could be used to benefit our countrymen, especially the poorest of the poor.
But for our senators, those uses for P15 billion aren’t urgent. The insult to the nation even escapes them – that the design for the Senate headquarters, a symbol of our nation, is by an American firm. Why not let only Filipino architects, who are after all world-class, design it?
Our senators want an 11-story headquarters. That would be roughly two senators for every floor. They point to President Duterte as the excuse for needing that much space; the building is designed to have space for 65 senators, as the President indicated he wants to increase the number of senators to that number as part of his plans to shift to a federal system.
It was sickening to hear Senate President Sotto say in his speech that the new Senate building was “extra special for him” as a third- generation politician of his clan, since his granduncle was a member of the first Senate, and his grandfather a congressman.
What? Sotto thinks spending P15 billion in taxpayers’ money for a new Senate building is his contribution to his clan’s “illustrious” political career?
“The structure is going to be a worthy bastion of democracy, of free speech, of great ideas … It is going to be an illustrious home for true servants of the people,” Sotto said in his speech.
Give me a break. The new Senate building will be a monument initially to the egos of the 24 senators who agreed to build it, and then to future senators who would occupy it: The edifice’s grandiosity and expansiveness will be a daily reminder to them that they are powerful politicians, and that the billions of pesos they spent to get an office there was all worth it.
Lacson last year said the building would be “iconic,” and would be comparable to the US Capitol, Germany’s Reichstag, and Great Britain’s Palace of Westminster.
That idea is so absurd it borders on the hilarious. In the first place, the US Capitol houses 535 representatives and senators; the Reichstag 709 Bundestag members; and Westminster Palace 1,355 members of the House of Lords and the House of Commons. Lacson’s building will be for 24 senators.
Didn’t anybody tell Lacson that the US Capitol has a Senate wing? Why don’t they just build a Senate wing in the Batasan Pambansa complex, which will even foster closer cooperation between the two chambers, who can then pass the needed laws more quickly?
Lacson wants the Senate building to be on par with the legislative buildings of three of the world’s superpowers, which have the finances — and the right as economic powerhouses — to build such expensive icons, as symbols of being on top of the world.
Let’s be realistic. We’re at the very least a generation from being a US, a Germany or a Great Britain. We’re still struggling to crawl out of our Third World status, we have tens of millions of people who are still poor, and our infrastructure remains one of the most undeveloped in Asia. The senators, with their new building, apparently want to feel as if they are legislators of the US, Germany and Great Britain.
On second thought, maybe we should let the Senate push through with its P15-billion edifice.
It will likely rouse so much public anger against this largely useless institution that it would be a walk in the park for Duterte to call for a referendum to abolish it. After all, it has been a block to our development. And nearly all of our neighbors in Asia have a single-chamber legislature that has been the most efficient set-up for a republican system.
If that ever happens, I would think the P15 billion spent for that to come about, shall have been well worth it.