Binay questions higher price tag on Senate building

Marc Jayson Cayabyab - The Philippine Star
Binay questions higher price tag on Senate building
In this Facebook post on May 7, 2024 shows Sen. Nancy Binay.
Facebook / Nancy Binay

MANILA, Philippines — Sen. Nancy Binay yesterday questioned how Senate President Francis Escudero came up with a P23.3-billion price tag on the New Senate Building (NSB), now being criticized for its construction costs.

In an interview with dwPM, Binay said she could not understand how Escudero and new Senate accounts committee chair Alan Peter Cayetano came up with the price tag, when only two phases of the project are ongoing.

“That is a wrong figure. Where did they get that figure? I wanted to ask Sen. Alan about his computations. Because as far as I’m concerned, only P10 billion was bid out,” she said.

Binay was referring to the two phases of the project – the first for the “core and shell” of the building, and the second for its finishing.

The first phase for the “core and shell” of the building is worth P8.067 billion, which includes the engineering, plumbing, as well as earth, electrical and concrete works, according to a contract between the Department of Public Works and Highways and Hilmarc’s Construction Corp. uploaded on the DPWH website.

The second phase worth P2.375 billion is for the finishing, such as doorways, windows and tiles, according to the second contract with Hilmarc’s also uploaded in the DPWH website.

Among the most expensive items are granite tiles, which cost P43,996.59 per square meter; as well as wood tiles, with the cheapest at P10,442.84 per square meter (laminated wood tile in matte finish) and the most expensive at P75,166.7 (laminated wood tile sand oak) per square meter, according to the contract. 

The second phase also included the Senate electrical works for its audiovisual, broadcasting and security management systems.

Binay said the third phase is projected to reach P10 billion, but this has yet to be bid out.

It baffled her that Escudero ordered to suspend the construction to conduct a review, but Cayetano in a Facebook livestreamed message said only Phase 3 of the project was stopped.

“I am confused by the statements from the two of them. What will you stop in Phase 3 when it hasn’t even started yet and everything is still on the drawing table?” Binay said.

Phase 3 of the project was delayed because she, as then Senate accounts committee chair, wanted to bring down the projected P10 billion cost, Binay said.

“I still do not know where they got the P23 billion figure,” she said.

Binay said she could not shake off the feeling that there was politicking involved because of the land row over the enlisted men’s barrio (EMBO) barangays from Makati that went to the jurisdiction of Taguig, where Cayetano’s wife, Lani, is mayor. Binay’s sister, Abby, is Makati mayor. 

The two mayors had a bitter word war over the issue, until the Supreme Court ruled with finality to award the land to Taguig.

“If it is true that this is just a spillover of that issue, then that is a petty reason. We should concentrate on our work. We shouldn’t take things personally in this job. We shouldn’t give too much time on petty fights,” Binay said. “At the end of the day, it would be such a waste if we let go of this project.”

‘Young Guns’ blast Pimentel

The “Young Guns” at the House of Representatives yesterday lambasted Senate Minority Leader Aquilino Pimentel III for questioning the chamber’s budget this year, saying he was just diverting the issue from the costly NSB project in Bonifacio Global City (BGC), Taguig.

House Assistant Majority Leader and Zamboanga Rep. Jay Khonghun said instead of hitting congressmen, Pimentel should “welcome” their move to “applaud the decision of the new Senate leadership to uphold the principles of good governance.”

“Almost everybody (is) in praise of Senate President Chiz Escudero’s decision to suspend construction of the new Senate building pending comprehensive review. All except Sen. Pimentel who, last we heard, was still the minority leader. What gives?” he noted.

Khonghun added they could not understand why Pimentel was “angry” with them.

On Thursday, the Young Guns hit Senate’s “wasteful spending” on the NSB which originally amounted to P14.4 billion, but now apparently ballooned to P23.3 billion.

In response to this, Pimentel told the congressmen to “first look at the dramatic increase in the budget of the House from P16 billion – as reflected in President Marcos’ proposed budget – to the final amount of P28 billion in the General Appropriations Act of 2024.”

According to House Assistant Majority Leader and Ako Bicol party-list Rep. Jil Bongalon, it was unnecessary for Pimentel to divert the issue by comparing the budget of the Senate and the House of Representatives.

Bongalon said it is clear that the House “with its over 300 members, does not have a P23-billion building project.”

“Sen. Pimentel’s attempts to divert scrutiny from the Senate’s controversial expenditure by highlighting the House’s budget increase are unfounded and misleading,” he said.

Bongalon added that “public funds must be utilized transparently and judiciously, irrespective of the agency or branch of government.”

For 1-Rider party-list Rep. Rodge Gutierrez, “there is no need to be onion-skinned about criticisms aimed at the Senate’s spending.”

“As public officials, we must all be open to scrutiny, especially when it concerns the use of taxpayers’ money,” Gutierrez said.

He maintained that the public deserves to know why the cost of the Senate building has “escalated so dramatically.”

“Your role as a senator should include ensuring accountability and transparency, not merely defending controversial projects,” Gutierrez added.

Assistant Majority Leader and La Union Rep. Paolo Ortega described Pimentel’s defense of the budget allocation for the new Senate building as “unnecessary” and a “distraction from the core issue,” which is the responsible use of public funds.

“What we need is transparency and accountability. The question remains: why has the NSB’s budget ballooned to P23.3 billion, from its original allocation of P8.9 billion?” Ortega said.  — Sheila Crisostomo

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