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New Senate building: Cost zoomed from P4.8B to P23.3B

THE Senate should be ashamed of the cost of its new luxurious offices in posh Bonifacio Global City. It would be scandalous if it did not investigate this disgrace to the nation.

When the project was first announced in 2018, then-senator Panfilo Lacson, who was in charge of it, said the planned Senate building would cost taxpayers only P4.8 billion. I immediately wrote a column — the first of six such pieces from 2018 to 2022 on what I called a monument to the Senate’s profligacy — reporting that my sources in the construction business laughed at his estimate and that it would at least cost P10 billion. Lacson issued a press statement that said: ”I based [my] figure P4.8 billion project cost as submitted by AECOM [the US firm that won the bidding for the project] on facts; Mr. Tiglao based his on opinion. “

Post in Facebook page ‘Emerging Philippines’: Cost shocked Escudero.

Well, the more recent facts given to Senate President Francis Escudero are even larger than my estimate. He revealed the other day that it had cost P23.3 billion, five times what Lacson said it would cost in 2018.

While obviously careful not to insinuate any anomalies in the project, which would implicate his former colleagues, Escudero said: ‘Nung nakita ko ito, medyo nagulantang ako at hindi ko inasahan na ganun kalaki aabutin ang gagastusin para sa ating magiging bagong tahanan (When I saw this, I was somewhat startled; I didn’t expect that it would be that expensive to build our new home).”

Lacson’s explanation through text messages sent to media didn’t clarify anything. He said not a single peso of the P10.3 billion was released to the Public Works Department since Sen. Nancy Binay, who succeeded him as accounts chairman, had “objected to the DPWH’s requests for variation orders (VOs).” But whether those funds were released or not to the Public Works Department is irrelevant, explaining why the project “bill” has reached the staggering amount of P23.3 billion.

DPWH

Lacson said: “The DPWH is the implementing agency, so it submits cost estimates and VOs. However, at the end of the day, it is the Senate that will accept or not the proposed additional budget allocations of the DPWH. ” That didn’t clarify anything much. Lacson should explain what exactly were the roles of the official contractor, Hilmarc Construction, and the DPWH.

Lacson also defended the new completion cost of P23 billion because it “includes the cost of the fit-out accessories and technical components of the security system as well as the land acquisition, which was valued at that time at P1.62 billion.” But these components of the project, especially the cost of the land, were clearly included in the P4.8 billion cost as presented by Lacson in 2019.

This explanation was echoed by Binay. She said that it was made clear that the P8.9 billion cost made in 2019 was only for the “core and shell” of the building, which means that the furnishings and interiors are “entirely separate.” Binay also said that Escudero was made aware of the project cost as early as 2019.

“During my watch as chair of the committee on accounts, we sent official invitations to all senators for ocular inspections and one-on-one briefings about the progress, status, timelines and other matters with regard to the new Senate building,” she said.

Why now?

But why was the P23.3 billion cost only revealed now, and why was Escudero shocked when he was given this figure? Or was it former Senate president Juan Miguel Zubiri to whom they gave their reports and to no other senator? Binay, however, should inhibit herself from commenting on this issue since the contractor for the project is Hilmarc, the same contractor for the Makati City Hall Building 2 when her father was mayor and accused of making money out of that project.

There are undoubtedly so many questions crying to be answered in the construction of the new building of the Philippine Senate, the institution which, together with the House of Representatives, is a symbol of our democracy.

Did Lacson merely tell the public it would cost just P4.8 billion in order to make it acceptable to the public? Having experience in building their house or houses, Lacson and Binay would know that the estimate a contractor would normally present to the owner would be the total cost of the completed, livable residence and not, as the latter claims, just the “core and shell.”

Furthermore, Lacson and Binay, of course, would know that construction projects normally have escalation clauses to take account of unexpected increases in the cost of materials such as cement and steel, usually 10 percent to 20 percent escalation. From Lacson’s announcement of the project’s P4.8 billion to P23.3 billion actual cost is a 385 percent escalation. Incredible.

Bad taste

No wonder Escudero remarked: “It leaves a very bad taste in the mouth.”

A 385 percent “escalation” cost could only mean three things. One, the senators in charge of it were, from the start, hiding its real cost, which would have met resistance from other senators and other people. Two, those in charge of the project were not doing their jobs and were fooled by the contractors, with or without a bribe. And third, there was corruption on a very serious scale. The “commissions” usually involved in government projects range from 10 to 20 percent. Based on the Senate building’s cost of P23.3 billion, the bribe would have amounted to P2.3 to P4.7 billion, and done through a very clever scheme: Who would be bold enough to monitor closely a project of the country’s 24 political demi-gods?

But of course, our senators are incorruptible, and it would all be a problem of sloppy accounting.

However, it is still the Senate’s duty to investigate this issue to clear its good name, especially since, under this administration, the prestige of institution after institution is being tainted. Taxpayers will also be properly informed that even as we resent its profligacy to luxury. Its decision to spend P23.3 billion to house 24 senators and their staff rather than use it for anti-poverty programs or to fortify our islands in the Kalayaan Island Group isn’t really such a bad one.

Its refusal to investigate the issue would bolster the view that the Senate is really nothing but an elite club pretending to be servants of the people, each of whose eyes are on the presidency, not on the tasks before them. After all, they’ve honed their skills in interrogating people to such a high degree that it will be a walk in the park.


Facebook: Rigoberto Tiglao

X: @bobitiglao

Website: www.rigobertotiglao.com

This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. That’s why I never got the logic of people who keep voting Lacson into office. The guy got rich literally by using the kidnap-me and rescue-me schemes in the 90s. He let the kidnapping groups run rampant so that he would emerge as the heroic rescuer later on, complete with gratuity money from the rich Chinoy families. The Kuratong Baleleng rubout was just the mafia-style attempt to clean up the whole modus, mga pakawala at kilala naman nila lahat yun from the start. Never trust a cop who got rich by that scheme.

  2. River Dweller

    People who under-report (or do not pay) their taxes have my complete sympathy and understanding. Just look at the priorities of this clown government – is one willing to finance the Philippine elite’s newest talking club?

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