SENATE President Franklin M. Drilon (FMD) may not have committed malversation of public funds and plunder but this doesn’t necessarily mean one of his pet projects, the controversial Iloilo Convention Center (ICC), isn’t overpriced as claimed by his former consultant, lawyer Manuel Mejorada. Put in another way, the ICC may be overpriced but it would be difficult to pin any crime on FMD.
The yellow ribbon committee of the Senate started its inquiry into the ICC issue last Thursday with Mejorada admitting that he has no proof FMD, Public Works Secretary Rogelio Singson and Tourism Secretary Ramon Jimenez benefited from the alleged P488-million overprice of the ICC construction. He has a point though when he said that somebody should have made money when the cost of the building had gone thru the roof. Who did in such a case is for a Sherlock Holmes to uncover and definitely, the yellow ribbon chair, Sen. TG Guingona, is no great shakes as an investigator of allies of President BS Aquino The Last, I mean The Third.
Singson said that government infrastructure projects usually cost 15 to 20-percent more than those undertaken by the private sector. The Mall of Asia was cited in the inquiry as costing P30,000 per square meter.
Going by Singson’s assertion, a similar project built by the government would cost P34,500 to P36,000 per square meter. So, why is the cost estimate of the ICC P63,000 per square meter or 110-percent more expensive? Ah, but Singson and Jimenez maintain that the structural design of the ICC is different from that of the MOA so it’s not correct to compare the costing of the two.
There’s even controversy on the actual floor area of the ICC. The original bid notice was for about 6,000 square meters and Mejorada used this as basis for concluding that the ICC was constructed at more than P106,000 per square meter. Singson and FMD insist that it’s actually 11,000 so the cost per square meter is only about P63,000. Sen. Serge Osmena and Sen. Koko Pimentel have served notice that they would look deeper into the actual floor area of the building. Pimentel questioned why the floor area of the roof deck should be included.
FMD said he was proud to be associated with the ICC project and readily admitted that he had requested for the release of its funds. Did the fund come from his Priority Development Assistance Fund or from the unconstitutional Disbursement Acceleration Fund? He claimed ignorance of the fund source but he argued that the DAP was not yet declared unconstitutional when he made the request. He also said that he had no role whatsoever in the bidding process for the project.
I had criticized FMD several times for his fawning loyalty to the Aquino administration, such that the independence of the Senate has been compromised and the trust of the public in this supposed august body has been diminished. His defense of the Disbursement Acceleration Program and of Budget Secretary Butch Abad over the same issue was tragic.
Once, he even called for the Senate approval of the President’s budget without any amendment, thus yielding Congress’ inherent power of the purse to Malacanang. He took over the sponsorship of the deferment of the ARMM election when Sen. Bongbong Marcos, chairman of the local government committee, said public hearings he had conducted indicated strong opposition on legal and political grounds to the deferment. In taking over, FMD violated the committee system of the Senate. He also took over the sponsorship of the sin tax law amendments when Sen. Ralph Recto, chairman of the ways and means committee, didn’t agree to Malacañang’s version.
There were many other issues I had raised against FMD I had never raised the issue of graft. I must confess I admire his partnership with the Federation of Filipino Chinese Chamber of Commerce for the construction of classrooms. Those classrooms came with toilets and electrical connections and yet they cost almost half those built by the DPWH. If he was after quick money, he could have easily made quite a pile from the 1,600 classrooms built through his “pork.”
Once, on a return flight to Manila from Manila, I found FMD a fellow passenger on the economy class cabin. I went over to his seat to comment about my surprise that the third highest official of the land was flying economy class. He said that he always did so on short trips to save the government money. Could there be a dark side of FMD insofar as money is concerned? Mejorada made such a claim and I hope the truth of the matter will eventually come out — my lack of faith in Guingona’s capability to try allies objectively notwithstanding.