Senate to wrap up probe on 'overpriced' Makati building

MANILA, Philippines – The Senate blue ribbon subcommittee will wrap up on Wednesday, October 8, its probe on the alleged overpriced Makati City Hall Parking Building 2 even if Makati City Mayor Erwin Jejomar Binay Jr continues to snub their invitation, the chairman of the panel said.

"Tomorrow, I intend to wrap up the investigation of the Makati City Hall 2 Parking Building.... Tomorrow's hearing must be dedicated to finish the Makati City Hall 2 Parking Building. If there are other matters, we will tackle it at the tailend of the hearing, " Senator Aquilino Pimentel III said on Tuesday, October 7.

Pimentel said he has "categorically requested Hilmarc's [Construction Company] to be there, the responsible officers of Hilmarc's. Mana Architecture [and Interior Design Company] must also be there."

He added that the technical audit specialist of the Commission on Audit (COA) for the entire project "must also be there tomorrow."

Mayor Binay attended the Senate probe once, but his family lamented how he was treated by the senators who were leading the probe. The subcommittee had issued a show cause order demanding Binay to explain his absence.

Discussions on compelling him to return to the Senate through options like a warrant of arrest were not pursued.

"If they will not attend, then there will be no testimony coming from their side. We will now draft the decision based on the evidence we have," said Pimentel. 

On September 25, the Senate panel discussed the initial COA report on the Makati building confirming "red flags" and "undue haste" taken in the implementation of the project.

Probe not over

The end of the subcommittee hearings would not mean the end of the Senate probe into the Binay family. Senate Resolution 826, which prompted the Senate probe into the Makati City Hall Building 2, deals with two other allegations. It also seeks to look into the alleged overpricing of the main City Hall and "other related anomalies committed by past and present Makati City Hall officials."

Pimentel said the subcommittee would first have to make a conclusion on the allegations relating to the parking building. Then it could decide whether or not it would proceed with the other topics. 

"My suggestion is: Let us rule first on issue number one. If the alleged overpricing in the parking building turns out to be correct, then that justifies continuing with the investigation. But if we decide to continue with the investigation, the third part must be clarified in fairness to those to be investigated. They know. Cake ba (Is it about the cake)? Ghost employees ba? Other buildings ba? Ano ba (What is it)?" said Pimentel.

"If the first part turns out to be wrong or false, I would suggest we terminate the hearing on Senate Resolution 826," Pimentel added.

The Senate probe is also expected to take a break until the subcommittee completes its report on the parking building.

Pimentel's pronouncement comes after the Binay camp protested the "open-ended" Senate probe that has tackled all sorts of issues outside the Makati building.

Mayor Binay earlier sought the intervention of the chairman of the mother committee, Senator Teofisto Guingona III, to stop the subcommittee hearings on the ground of questionable jurisdiction. Guingona stated his position on Tuesday. (READ: Binays get no support from Guingona in jurisdiction challenge)

"I appreciate the ruling of chairman Guingona recognizing that the subcommittee of the blue ribbon has full plenary powers just like the regular blue ribbon committee except only on one matter, which is the contempt power. We do not have the power to cite someone for contempt. I agree with the ruling," said Pimentel. 

Guingona also ordered the subcommittee to treat the motion of Mayor Binay filed before Guingona's committee as a motion for reconsideration. The subcommittee will vote on it before the hearing proceeds on Wednesday.

The subcommittee earlier upheld its jurisdiction to probe the issue. "If it turns out that this is just a repetition of what we already ruled upon, then the ruling will be a foregone conclusion," said Pimentel. – Rappler.com