THE new Senate building will eventually cost P15 billion, more than the P8.9 billion proponents claim, since that lower cost doesn’t include yet most the finishing costs as well as new furniture.
Because it is a constitutionally independent body, the Senate proposed it and approved it on its own, allocating the P8.9 billion.
Construction started in 2019 and has been going on at full blast since then, just when the country was going through the pandemic crisis and its terrible economic consequences. Some senators that I consulted said it was a bad idea, but they have remained quiet because of the clubbish nature of the chamber.
Furthermore, the two proponents of this luxurious project are the chamber’s most senior members: Senate President Vicente Sotto 3rd and Sen. Panfilo Lacson. The latter is running for president, with Sotto as his running mate. When I asked one senator why on earth would Lacson and Sotto be championing this noble cause of constructing the most expensive government structure ever, the senator said, while grinning impishly: “Ask Hilmarc.”
Hilmarc’s Construction Corp. is the contractor for the new building. President Duterte himself was surprised when he found this out, asking in one of his televised briefings: “Is this the same Hilmarc contractor that built the Iloilo Convention Center and the Makati City Hall building that the Senate also investigated during the last administration?”
It was the Senate blue ribbon committee hearings in 2014 investigating allegations that then presidential candidate Jojo Binay was in cahoots with Hilmarc’s that helped stop the momentum of his presidential candidacy.
My question for you, Dear Reader: Would you vote for candidates like these two who have demonstrated their very wrong sense of priorities? If their tandem wins, will they order the bigger and more expensive building to house the Offices of the President and Vice President?
To help you decide, I am re-posting an excerpt of my article on this edifice which I wrote way back in March 2019, which was entitled “P15B monument to 24 political super-egos.” Neither Lacson nor Sotto questioned any statement or data in that piece, nor argued that there is nothing wrong with their priorities.
The 2019 article starts here:
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 on 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.”Vice-presidential candidate Sotto and presidential candidate Lacson stand proudly during the groundbreaking of their top priority, the new Senate building at Bonifacio Global City.
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 away 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 single-chamber legislature that has been the most efficient setup 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.
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