Trillanes: Probe Binays for ‘outrageous overpricing’

MANILA, Philippines – “Shocking, outrageous, and unconscionable.”

Senator Antonio Trillanes IV filed a strongly worded resolution calling for a Senate investigation into the alleged overpricing of a Makati “parking building,” an older city hall building, and “related anomalies” under the leadership of Vice President Jejomar Binay of the country’s financial center. (See resolution below.)

The senator from the Nacionalista Party (NP) filed the resolution on Monday, August 11, in a move the Binays immediately branded as a ploy to boost his chances for higher office in the 2016 elections.

Trillanes drew attention to the plunder complaint filed against father and son Binay, saying the “parking building” cost more than “high-end commercial and residential skyscrapers in Makati.” The former Navy officer said another old city hall building built in 1990 cost more than soldiers and policemen’s housing project.

The Vice President was mayor of Makati from 1986 to 2010, except for 3 years when his wife took over while he observed the term limit. His only son, Jejomar Erwin “Junjun” Binay Jr, succeeded him in 2010. The construction of the building began in 2007 and was completed in 2013. 

The senator wants the Senate blue ribbon committee to look into various allegations, including the Binays’ supposed violation of procurement laws:

Trillanes said the inquiry would be “in aid of legislation to recommend amendments to the appropriate bidding and procurement laws and policies to ensure the proper use of public funds.” 

The resolution comes after the filing of a plunder complaint before the Ombudsman against Binay and his son. 

The Binays have maintained that the structure was not a “parking building” but housed offices of the city government. Yet citing the website of contractor Hilmarc’s Construction Corporation, Trillanes insisted that it was a mere parking building and questioned the expenses.

The New Makati City Hall II Building, located along F. Zobel Street in Barangay Poblacion, Makati City, is a 'parking building' and is officially designated by its contractor, Hilmarc’s Construction Corporation, as such (i.e., Makati City Hall Parking Building) because the majority of its floors are intended for parking purposes. It is described as a 11-storey Building with Roof Deck with 1 Level Basement and 5 Floors Parking Area with a total area of 31,928 square meters,” stated the resolution.

'More than 3,000 classrooms'

The Binays also cited a February 2014 report of the Commission on Audit (COA) that the contract price was “reasonable.” Still, Trillanes mentioned the same report to question the project. The COA auditor was among those charged with the Binays.

“Per the COA Report of 17 February 2014, the actual payments for the subject building as of 31 December 2013 already amounts to a total of P2,367,679,633.95, with the construction contract split into 5 contracts in violation of the existing procurement law but which were all miraculously won by one and the same contractor,” Trillanes said.  

“Hence, the City of Makati actually spent around P 2.4 billion for the said building, thus, placing the actual cost at around P75,000.00 per square meter, with the total overpriced sum in the amount of P 1.601 billion.” 

Trillanes said the “parking building” cost 3 or 4 times more than the following:

Like the complainants, Trillanes cited data from the National Statistics Office (NSO) to argue that the building was overpriced. He said the average cost of construction for commercial and institutional buildings in 2007 was only P7,691 per square meter, but the project cost was P75,000 per square meter in 2013, or “a staggering overprice equivalent to 875%.” 

“In order to highlight the gravity of this apparent anomaly, if the perceived overpriced amount of almost P 1.601 billion was instead utilized to build classrooms for our school children, more than 3,000 classrooms [inclusive of toilets and furniture] could have been built using the money,” Trillanes said.

Going beyond the plunder complaint, Trillanes also raised allegations about the old city hall built in 1990, saying it was “even more scandalous.”

“The average cost of P240,000 per square meter for a building built in the 1990’s is clearly shocking, outrageous, and unconscionable, especially given the information that the responsible local officials were somehow able to 'dodge the bullet' and escape responsibility for said anomaly,” he said.

Citing various news reports, editorials, and blogs, Trillanes urged the Senate to also investigate the following “anomalies” of former and current Makati officials:

‘Bring it on!’

In a statement, Mayor Binay said the city government is ready to face investigation. He again cited the COA report to defend the project. 

“The Commission on Audit has already cleared the project of overpricing allegations in an intensive audit in February. The findings underscore our position from the start that these allegations by our political opponents do not have factual and legal basis,” he said.

Binay previously quoted the COA report as saying that the project required the cost spent because of factors like “unstable soil conditions” and the quality of materials.”

“The report cited the construction of the main building of Makati City Hall as ‘a classic example.’  Based on research and available data, ‘the soil structure was found soft.’ Hard strata at this area was reached from 13 meters to 15 meters elevation from the ground,’” stated an earlier press release of Binay.

The leader of the opposition United Nationalist Alliance (UNA), the elder Binay is the number one contender for the presidential polls, based on surveys. Trillanes has admitted he is seeking higher office in 2016 but lags behind in the polls. 

Mayor Binay took a swipe at Trillanes for alleged politicking. “Our political opponents are desperately grasping at straws, and are intent on destroying our credibility through these malicious, false and baseless accusations.  But we have nothing to hide.  The building was constructed in accordance with the government procurement laws and processes, and we trust that all relevant transactions will bear close scrutiny.”

Senator Nancy Binay, the Vice President’s eldest daughter, also criticized Trillanes.

Bring it on! Pinaghahandaan naman namin ang mga ganitong issue. Kung anak ko magkakaso na rin, 'di na ako magugulat,” she said. (We are preparing for these kinds of issues. If my child gets a lawsuit, I will no longer be surprised.)

Senator Binay questioned the "national relevance" of the issue. 

"Nakakapagtaka nga lang. Kung iyon ang ikaangat nila, anong magagawa natin diba?" (It's surprising. But if that's what will raise other people up, what can we do?) 

Pimentel to lead probe

A member of the Senate blue ribbon committee, Senator Binay said she will inhibit herself from the probe out of propriety.

Chairman Teofisto “TG” Guingona III announced that Senator Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel III will lead the investigation.

Incidentally, Pimentel is a former ally of the Binays who bolted UNA and joined the administration in 2013 after the opposition coalition refused to heed his request to drop his bitter rival, resigned Senator Juan Miguel Zubiri, from its Senate slate. Pimentel filed an electoral case against Zubiri, which he eventually won after 4 years of fighting for his Senate post. 

Pimentel explained to Rappler why he asked to lead the investigation. “TG as chair created a sub-committee within the blue ribbon for this. Since as far as I know, no one wants to chair it, I will.”

Asked why he requested for the task, he responded, “Because I can be objective to chair the matter.” Rappler.com