Vice President Jejomar Binay, his family and avid supporters are begging the question in shrugging off allegations of overpricing of a Makati government building as “politically motivated.”
It’s acknowledged that the Veep is the front-runner for the 2016 presidential election. His lofty ranking in the surveys however is not enough reason for him to ignore serious allegations of graft and corruption in the Makati City government. It doesn’t even matter that his nemesis in the Senate inquiry, Senators Alan Peter Cayetano and Antonio Trillanes 4th, are lagging behind in the surveys for 2016. The real issue to be tackled is: Is there an overprice in the construction of the city office cum parking building that reportedly cost P84,000 per square meter?
At the first hearing conducted by a subcommittee of the yellow ribbon committee headed by Sen. Koko Pimentel, Cayetano cited figures from the Davis, Langdon and Seah (DLS) construction cost handbook which is used in the Philippines indicating that a first-rate office should range from P30,000 to P37,000 per sq. m.
And how about the allocation of P350 million for the transfer to the new building of one department from an adjacent building? Ascribing the charges to politics will only prevent the joining of issues and stonewall efforts to uncover the truth.
It seems par for the course that government buildings usually cost 30 to 40 percent more to construct than similar private buildings. However, when the overprice is more than 100 percent, that’s certain to raise hackles even of those who had grown insensitive to reports of graft and corruption in government.
Chairman Grace Pulido Tan of the Commission on Audit told the subcommittee that the COA would conduct a special audit of the building’s construction amid “red flags.” One of these, she said was the division of the project into five phases and the award in just two-and-a-half months of all 5 projects to the same contractor, Hilmarcs Construction Corp.
“In our experience, a project of this magnitude and complexity would normally take at least six months or even a year to procure,” she stressed.
She also questioned why over P1 billion was still appropriated for the building for Phases 4 and 5 of the project even if the COA’s technical audit specialists and engineers assessed in 2011 that it was already “habitable and ready for use” after Phase 3 of the construction.
It may be coincidental but Cayetano and his wife Lani, mayor of Taguig City, are facing graft charges before the Ombudsman filed by a certain Roderick Tan, whom he described as a classmate at the Ateneo College of Law of Rep. Abigail Binay, the Veep’s daughter. He noted that the charges were filed on the first day of the Senate inquiry.
Among the charges against the couple were the purchase of 18 multicabs at P498,000 each, the misuse of Cayetano’s pork totaling P165 million for ghost projects in Taguig, and the spending by the Taguig city government of P313 million for 3,188 “ghost employees.”
In a manifestation on the Senate floor, Cayetano said that the COA report did not contain anything derogatory against him or his wife, contrary to media reports. He clarified that of the P165 million in pork put in Taguig, only P2.69 million came from him. He said that the remaining P162 million came from other legislators, including a former Taguig congressman whose use of pork is now being investigated by COA.
He contended that Taguig’s City Hall bought at P498,000 each not used multicabs with no air-conditioning equipment but brand-new air-conditioned units that were converted into ambulances.
As regards allegations of “ghost employees,” Cayetano said the COA report did not use such term. He said what COA merely stated was its preference for regular employees over Job Orders for 3,188 employees.
“That is their right, but the city is winning awards left and right from refusing to allow people to go to the city hall and the city is sending people to their homes to deliver services,” he said.
He quoted portions of the COA report that said: “…Verification disclosed that the personnel and the abovementioned programs were actually assigned and deployed to different offices in the absence of or lack of regular personnel performing regular functions and services.”
I admire Cayetano for facing those issues squarely rather than merely ascribing them to a demolition job. As he said on the Senate floor, “I would just like to put that manifestation on the floor and on record so that no one will say that by not answering, I am saying that such reports are true.”