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P12B for new Senate building; P50M for defending KIG ‘sovereignty’

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NOTHING reveals the hypocrisy of the Senate in defending Philippine sovereignty and maritime rights in the South China Sea than its construction starting in 2019 of its offices at the posh Bonifacio Global City.

When I first wrote about this monument to 24 super-egoists, then senator Panfilo Lacson, whom the Senate tasked to implement the project, in a press release, corrected my figure that it would cost P8 billion. “It will just cost P4.58 billion,” he declared.

New Senate building construction as of July 2023: Six senators per tower? PHILIPPINE INFORMATION AGENCY PHOTO

He was very wrong, and my figure was only a little bit off. The contract for the building when it was signed in March 2019 stipulated P8.067 billion to be paid to the contractor, Hilmarc’s Construction Corp. The Senate on top of this had transferred on a multi-year obligational authority another P900 million of the projects’ other expenses, expecting the building to cost P8.967 billion.

The luxurious building with 86,000 square meters of floor space will have four towers — six senators per tower apparently — with 11 floors each and three basements with a minimum of 1,200 parking spaces that can accommodate the required functions and operation of the Senate and its constituents.

Contrary to Lacson’s claim, the cost had ballooned by almost double from P4.58 billion to P8.9 billion. Not only that, but the project has been delayed by nearly two years due to factors created by the Covid-19 epidemic, involving not just the scarcity of workers but also the rise in the prices of building materials and cement. “We’ll be lucky if we can keep total costs at P10 billion,” a source at the construction company said.

And even after spending that P10 billion, the 24 senators won’t be able to move into it: A copy of the contract I was able to acquire did not specify that Hilmarc’s contract includes interior design, final finishing, furniture and equipment for the senators’ offices and their staff. “This usually becomes a huge expense,” a contractor said. “The offices of the 24 senators will at the end of the day cost P12 billion,” he said, and will end up being the most expensive building ever in the country, the most luxurious legislative office built in the post-war era in the world. “Each office will be as posh as a five-star hotel suite, with each having overnight accommodations,” he said with a naughty grin.

Rich

Most of these senators are rich, many sons and wives of billionaires, who live in posh villages in homes with the most expensive appurtenances. Obviously, they want their place of work as opulent as their residences.

I, therefore, agree 100 percent with House Speaker Ferdinand Martin Romualdez’s grand political project, even at the cost of having maybe for a decade a Marcos-Romualdez dynasty: abolish the Senate and set up a unicameral parliamentary system, which, after all, has proven to be the most efficient system for a representative democracy.

What makes the P12 billion new Senate building such an abuse of power is that it was planned and built during a period when that scale of expenditure was necessary to defend disputed territories that we already occupy in the South China Sea.

(Clockwise from top left) New Philippine structure at Pag-asa Island (2003); Vietnamese structures in Spratly Island; and Chinese facility at Mischief Reef, 20 km from Ayungin Shoal. PHOTOS FROM PCG, AMTI.CSIS.ORG

Other claimants have done this. China built small structures on stilts in Mischief Reef in 1999 and similar outposts in six other reefs. The US and the bungling Aquino 3rd government gave the Chinese an excuse — when it filed the arbitration suit against China in 2013 — to transform their outposts into huge artificial islands, complete with ports, airstrips, barracks, and communication facilities. It has been actually one of China’s biggest infrastructure projects, with estimates that it cost a total of $100 billion, an astronomical sum indeed, but which China was willing to spend to defend its sovereignty against the US’ creeping encirclement. Vietnam was close at China’s heels, building several artificial islands on the reefs they had been occupying.

Vietnam, because it is not as rich as China, made a major innovation when it built defensive structures on the reefs it occupied. It modified a design for oil rigs and transformed these into well-armed military outposts. As of early November 2023, the total landfill area of the main feature and two smaller ones amounted to nearly 1 sq km.

Layang-layang

In 1983, Malaysian commandos invaded Layang-Layang island (Swallow Reef), southeast of Palawan, and transformed it into a world-class diving resort with an international airport, with a Malaysian warship always moored close to it.

And how about the noisiest claimant, us, whose Coast Guard has been absurdly and pathetically challenging the Chinese claim of sovereignty over Ayungin Shoal by attempting to supply the soldiers at the BRP Sierra Madre grounded there with food?

Since the elder Marcos’ grabbing in the early 1970s of what he would call the Kalayaan Island Group and the building of a barracks and airstrip at Pag-asa Island, basically nothing much has been done in half a century — except for a small three-story building inaugurated recently.

The Senate didn’t have anything to do with it, of course. Former president Duterte ordered the building a new coast guard monitoring station after Super Typhoon “Odette” completely damaged the original station in December 2021. Only the Philippine flag stood where the old station once was.

A source said the new building cost at most P50 million, with Duterte financing it through his confidential intelligence funds. Our senators keep jumping up and down, shouting invectives at the Chinese when they defend what they believe is their territorial waters in Ayungin Shoal.

But with P12 billion, we could have built strong fortifications on Pag-asa and the three islands we occupy, even undertaken some of our own reclamation — which would be the strongest message we could send to China and the world that we will defend our sovereignty. Without that kind of project, we can only have for-hire activists to squeak “Atin Ito” once in a while.

But the Senate put as a priority the building of their new building which would cost P12 billion. Hypocrites. The Chinese and the Vietnamese are laughing at us.


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This Post Has One Comment

  1. Dorina S. Rojas

    Let’s wait for the new building of the House of Representatives designed and built under King Martin Romualdez of the Philippine legislature. I am sure it will dwarf the P12B Senate building and every room will have its own penthouse and basement made to last forever by the forever reigning King Romualdez till kingdom come. The US will have made this country then a jungle of its military bases and the whole South China Sea will be an international sea managed by China while the rest of us will be living in bunkers waiting when the next bomb will be dropped to us. King Martin will be in the US together with our officials and leaders and will be forever celebrating Philippine sovereignty while our ASEAN neighbors are enjoying theirs in their own territories while laughing at us.

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