THE Makati city government under then-Mayor Jejomar Binay converted a multimillion-peso housing project, intended for the city’s poor residents, into an overpriced hotel that provides free accommodation to the now-Vice President’s political allies, a former city official claimed on Thursday.
At resumption of Senate blue ribbon sub-committee hearings, lawyer Renato Bondal, a former barangay (village) chairman in Makati, said the Makati Friendship Suites, which according to him was originally intended for the poor residents, is being used as a political tool of Binay at the expense of the city government.
But the interim secretary-general of the United Nationalist Alliance (UNA), lawyer JV Bautista, also on Thursday dismissed what he called as recycled allegations being raised against the Vice President.
According to Bautista, Bondal and members of the blue ribbon sub-committee are not the right individuals to determine if the Makati Friendship Suites was overpriced.
He said it would be better for those claiming that there was overpricing in the project to present their findings to the Commission on Audit and allow the state auditor to determine it instead of coming up with baseless claims.
In his power-point presentation during Thursday’s hearing, Bondal disclosed that the Makati City Council, in 2002, passed City Ordinance 2002-091 appropriating P17.2 million for the purchase of three unfinished buildings in the Guadalupe Bliss Project to complement the existing low-cost housing and informal settlers’ housing program of Makati.
Bondal noted that it was clear, based on the approved city ordinance, that the Makati city government procured the structures for the benefit of its poor residents.
The city government then appropriated P242 million for a three-phased renovation of the buildings at P10,000 per square meter, which Bondal also claimed was far higher than the industry average.
According to him, the city government spent a total of P260 million for the project, or more than P51,700 per square meter.
“There is overpricing of about P195 million,” he said, adding that the amount surpassed the P50 million threshold for plunder.
The worst part, Bondal also noted, is that the buildings were converted into a hotel, called the Makati Friendship Suites, providing free accommodation, meals and other perks to Binay’s political allies or local officials of Makati’s sister cities.
He said residents of Makati are not allowed to stay in the hotel because it is exclusively for the sister cities of Makati but operational expenses of the hotel are being shouldered by Makati taxpayers.
Compared to other highly urbanized cities in the country, according to Bondal, Makati has the most number of sister cities with 670 and the number is still increasing.
Quezon City, the biggest and the one of the wealthiest cities in country, has only 19 while Manila has 40 and Davao City, 10.
“Even New York City has only 104 sister cities all over the world,” Bondal said.
For informal settlers of Makati who should have been beneficiaries of the suites, the city government acquired a 40-hectare land in Dayap, Calauan, Laguna, for P120 million (P300 per square meter) and called it Makati Home Ville.
The city government allotted P900 million for construction, which was divided in two phases, but Bondal said the houses in the area were built by the residents themselves, not by Makati.
He added that the city government spent more than a billion pesos for the low-cost housing project but it remains unfinished.
UNA’s Bautista said it is the contractor, not Binay, who should be questioned about the project.
“The project has been awarded to the contractor and is the one responsible for its completion,” he added.
Bautista said the sub-committee should ask former Makati City Vice Mayor Ernesto Mercado about Makati Home Ville because Mercado owns Twin Leaf Construction, the contractor of the project.