SENATE Majority Leader Alan Peter Cayetano on Friday said he has no objection to a call of detained Sen. Jose “Jinggoy” Estrada for the Senate blue ribbon committee to investigate allegations that Senate President Franklin Drilon had a hand in the alleged overpricing of construction of the Iloilo Convention Center (ICC).
In fact, Cayetano added, the blue ribbon should have set a hearing, since a resolution asking the panel to investigate the ICC issue has been filed in the Senate.
The resolution, filed by Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago, called for an investigation of the involvement of Hillmarc’s Construction Corp., builder of the convention center in Drilon’s home province of Iloilo.
Built at the cost of P531 million, the ICC is four times more expensive than the SMX Convention Center in Pasay City (Metro Manila).
The ICC is said to have been built at a cost of P109,375 per square meter based on a floor area of 6,400 sq m, compared to the SMX Convention Center at P26,400 per sq m based on a floor area of 46,647 sq m.
In calling for the probe, Santiago cited a need for the Senate to verify how Hilmarc’s seems to have cornered big public-works contracts.
In the past decade, the company won contracts for no fewer than 20 government infrastructure projects in some cities, including Iloilo and Makati (Metro Manila).
Funding for the construction of the ICC is said to have come from Drilon’s P200-million allocation from the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) in 2012 and P100 million from the unconstitutional Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP) in 2013.
Last Wednesday, Manuel Mejorada, a former Iloilo provincial administrator, filed plunder and other graft-related complaints against Drilon, Public Works Secretary Rogelio Singson, Tourism Secretary Ramon Jimenez and seven other officials in connection with the construction of the convention center.
“It is easy to claim that there is overpricing, that is why it is also important to have evidence first, like in the case of Makati City Hall Building 2, we already have the evidence even before the start of the hearing,” Cayetano noted.
Sen. Francis Escudero said the blue ribbon committee must show the same eagerness in inquiring into the ICC issue as it has demonstrated in investigating the allegedly overpriced construction of Makati City Hall Building 2.
Escudero added that it would prove to the public that the Senate is fair and non-partisan and that it is willing to look into matters involving one of their own.
He said Sen. Nancy Binay could initiate the inquiry since her father, Vice President Jejomar Binay, is the subject of an ongoing blue ribbon inquiry.
In Iloilo City, a supporter of Drilon said the complaint against the Senate president before the Ombudsman was full of grossly erroneous data gathered somewhere.
Former city Vice Mayor Victor Facultad said the supposed facts presented by Mejorada on the construction of the ICC were inaccurate.
Drilon himself branded the allegations Mejorada, his former consultant, as totally baseless and utterly ridiculous.
In a radio interview in Iloilo, he said Mejorada has been “harboring hatred against me for firing him and for not giving in to his request to endorse him to several government posts.”
The allegations, Drilon added, are mere fabrications.
He said Mejorada has no direct information and knowledge on the project. All he has are flawed data and wrong assumptions, Drilon added.
With Lydia C. Pendon