AFTER 37 years, the National Housing Authority (NHA) just recently transferred the title of the land of the Batasan Complex to the House of Representatives.
The House and the NHA have already signed the memorandum of agreement for the conveyance of the title of the 19-hectare Batasan property in Quezon City.
With the land title the House is officially considered the property’s landowners and cannot be evicted even by presidential action because it is protected by the Constitutional provisions on private property.
Meanwhile, the Senate is still renting its offices in the Government Service Insurance System (GSIS) at a cost of P11.943 million a month or P143.316 million a year.
The Senate transferred from the Old Congress Building to the GSIS property in 1997. It has paid roughly over P2 billion in rent alone the past 18 years.
The amount could be more if reports are true that the total cost of the Senate rent is actually P200 million a year. But the point is the House has spent nothing on rentals as it owns Batasan Pambansa Complex while the Senate has spent billions. So the Senate should find a home of its own.
Previously, the Senate was looking to transfer to the Manila Film Center inside the Cultural Center of the Philippines, which is very near GSIS.
But sources inside the Senate say there are several issues against it. One, the structural integrity of the building was questioned by government engineers and the cost of fixing the structural defects would be substantial. Two, the property is too small for the Senate session hall and offices alone, so another building has to be constructed to accommodate all the space requirements, which again would be expensive. And three, Senate employees were simply afraid to transfer there.
The film center is said to be haunted by the ghosts of construction workers who were killed during the building’s construction in 1981. Senate people told me the Department of Foreign Affairs once tried a satellite office inside the building but it was short-lived because the DFA personnel were spooked by ghostly encounters and asked to be transferred as soon as possible.
Sen. Francis Escudero once suggested transferring to the Manila Central Post Office in Lawton, Manila.
The post office building could not only accommodate the Senate’s space requirements but it also has the historical and structural aesthetics suited for parliament (never mind that the old building has ghost stories of its own.)
But what would happen to the Philippine Postal Corporation if the Senate takes over its home? The postal building houses the country’s main mail sorting-distribution operations. That is another matter.
Another possibility is for the Senate to construct an office inside the sprawling Batasan Pambansa Complex. That was also one of the plans prior to the Senate’s transfer to the GSIS: The Senate and the House together, which would facilitate the work of both Houses owing to their proximity to each other (not to mention make it easier for lobbyists to do their lobbying).
There had been other sites proposed for the 98-year-old Senate like the proposed underground interconnection of the old Congress building with the old Finance and Tourism buildings; Fort Bonifacio in Makati/Taguig; and the University of the Philippines area in Quezon city.
Personally, I miss the Old Congress building on Burgos Street. The Philippine Congress occupied the Old Congress Building from 1926 to 1945 with the Senate using the upper floors and the House occupying the lower floors (literally an upper and lower house).
When the Congress building was destroyed in World War II, the two houses of Congress moved to the Old Japanese Schoolhouse in Manila and returned to the Congress building after its renovation in 1950.
In 1972, Marcos dissolved Congress and built the Batasang Pambansa to house the unicameral parliament. But after the Edsa Revolution in 1986 the bicameral legislature was restored. The House inherited the Batansang Pambansa while the Senate took residence in the Old Congress Building once again. I held office there for 12 years or two terms as a senator.
As Erap said that building had character and ambiance compared to the GSIS building where the Senate is in now, which looks more like a bank.
The Post Office building has character and ambiance too. The 16 iconic pillars that line the steps going to the building’s lobby have been featured countless times in movies, pictures and other works of art.
Designed by Juan M. Arellano and Tomás Mapúa, the post office building was built in neoclassical architecture in 1926. It was severely damaged in World War II, and rebuilt in 1946 preserving most of its original design.
The building was an integral part Daniel Burnham’s plan for the city of Manila, and is strategically located on the frontage of the Pasig River with its main entrance facing the Liwasang Bonifacio, and accessible from all converging avenues from Quiapo, Binondo, Malate and Ermita.
The Manila Film Center has character, history and tragedy behind it too. Inspired by Greece’s Parthenon, it was constructed during the time of Marcos with the aim of enhancing the reputation of the Philippines around the world as a center of cinema, and served as the main theater for the 1st Manila International Film Festival in January 1982.
Tragedy struck at the height of its construction. On Nov. 17, 1981, a scaffolding of an upper floor collapsed and fell over an unknown number of construction workers. The bodies were allegedly left buried underneath the building because the construction had to be rushed in time for the film festival, which is why alleged ghostly encounters are still being reported to this day.
So where will the Senate find a permanent home?
Will they move from Pasay City to Quezon City to join the House? Will they build their own new building somewhere? Will they transfer to the Film Center or the Manila Central Post Office or back in the Old Congress premises? Or will the senators stay in the GSIS building where the government pension fund would only be too happy to receive their millions in rent?