EDITORIAL - ‘In bad taste’

The Philippine Star
EDITORIAL - �In bad taste�

From the get-go, this project has been hounded by controversy. Why do 24 senators need to move out of the spacious building owned by the Government Service Insurance System, and into brand-new digs in an area with one of the country’s steepest property prices?

Certainly, it’s not simply to save on fuel expenses for the lawmakers residing in Forbes Park and other posh gated villages. And even if the travel time for senators residing in those exclusive neighborhoods to their posh new offices in Bonifacio Global City in Taguig will be shortened, it’s unlikely that they will give up the motorcycle-mounted police escorts who part the traffic for them.

Senators explained that the project was meant to save on rental fees to the GSIS for the use of six floors. The four-building complex in BGC is reportedly meant to accommodate up to 65 senators, as reportedly requested at the time by Senate Minority Leader Aquilino Pimentel III, just in case regional representation is approved for the chamber. This will require a rewrite of the Constitution. Considering the struggle to pass even economic Charter change, this political reform is a stretch.

A design competition in 2018 for the new building led to the selection of AECOM. Following the groundbreaking in March 2019, the Department of Public Works and Highways awarded the P8.9-billion contract to Hilmarc Construction Corp. The company became embroiled in controversy over its construction of the allegedly overpriced parking building for the Makati government.

The pandemic lockdowns stalled construction of the new Senate building. This week, amid reports that the project cost has ballooned to P23.3 billion, Senate President Francis Escudero suspended the construction pending scrutiny of the additional costs, which he described as “shocking and in bad taste.” The controversy has drawn public attention to the structure, which critics say is beginning to look like a five-star hotel. And it has raised questions about the funding priorities of the political leadership.

Former senator Panfilo Lacson, who chaired the chamber’s accounts committee in 2018, said the P23.3 billion includes the cost of fit-outs, technical components of the security system plus the land acquisition cost that has appreciated. Sen. Nancy Binay, who took over the Senate committee from Lacson, said the P8.9 billion was merely for the “core and shell” of the four towers.

Binay has warned that delaying the project could make the cost rise further. Escudero, meanwhile, has said that with the ballooning costs, it’s unlikely that the Senate could move into the new building by 2025 as projected, or even by 2026. Whatever the outcome of this controversy, fiscal prudence is expected of the Senate.

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