Iloilo building probe should continue – Osmeña

Carmela Fonbuena
Iloilo building probe should continue – Osmeña
The senator says several aspects of the project remain 'suspicious,' and points out that his colleagues didn't display such haste in wrapping up the probe into the Makati building

MANILA, Philippines – The Senate probe into the allegedly overpriced Iloilo Convention Center (ICC) should continue, according to Senator Serge Osmeña III despite the admission of Senate President Franklin Drilon’s accuser that he has no solid evidence so far.

Osmeña said several aspects of the project remain “suspicious,” and there is a need to wait for all the facts to emerge.

“I’m not saying that bribes did happen, but what I am saying is, there are other aspects to the convention center issue that will make people suspicious that, to me, might be violative of the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act,” Osmeña told reporters on Monday, November 17. 

“Hindi pa lumalabas lahat ng facts dito. Huwag muna natin isara,” he added. (Not all the facts have emerged. We shouldn’t close the case yet.)

Former Iloilo provincial administrator Manuel Mejorada, also a former aide of Drilon, filed  a complaint before the Office of the Ombudsman, accusing the Senate President and other government officials of jacking up the price of the convention center, from aroun P450 million to P700 million, even P1 billion.

Mejorada admitted in the Senate hearing last week that he has no documentary evidence to prove his allegations of overprice, however. He relied on the increasing cost of the project over time, as  reported in the media.

The admission of Mejorada, who was also slammed during the hearing for using Wikipedia information as source, prompted calls to stop the probe. 

3 issues to follow up

Osmeña, however, said 3 issues still need to be looked into. 

  • Why was there no bidding for the architectural design of the Iloilo Convention Center?
  • When was value engineering introduced?
  • Was Megaworld’s lot donation beneficial to government?

In last week’s Senate probe, Osmeña drew attention to Megaworld’s motivation to donate a lot inside it’s complex for the convention center. In accepting the lot donation, the Department of Tourism (DOT) agreed to a pre-condition that the ICC will follow the architectural design provided by the Megaworld so it is consistent with the overall design of its complex. The design of architectural firm WV Coscolluela was also a donation. (Read our wrap story on the first day of probe here.)

The DOT’s budget was not enough to build the design of WV Coscolluela, however. Adjustments were made to the structure after “value engineering,” which had to be approved by the architectural firm. 

In denying allegations that he caused the oveprice of the ICC, Drilon said the government even “gained” about P521 million. He said this is the cost of the lot donation.

Osmeña pointed out, however, that Megaworld bought the property from the government for P17 million to P30 million. 

“Ang ipinagmamalaki ay dino-donate ito ng P500 million. Eh kumuha ng tax credit. ‘Yung tax credit, baka P40 million to P50 million. Lugi tayo d’yan,” Osmeña said. (They cite as gain that a donation worth P500 million was made. But they got tax credit, which could range from P40 million to P50 million. We’ve been shortchanged.)

Osmeña’s line of questioning prompted Mejorada to later say: “Megaworld had its own plans of building a convention center and found an opportunity for government to fund the project.”

Makati probe had 9 hearings

Osmeña said the Senate blue ribbon committee cannot close its hearing until it has heard former Iloilo representative August Syjuco Jr testify.

Besides, Osmeña said the same committee has conducted 9 hearings to probe the Makati City Hall Building 2, another allegedly overpriced building by the same contractor, Hilmarc’s Construction. (There have been 11 hearings, conducted on Makati contracts so far. – Editors)

“Personally, ayoko naman sabihin na, ‘Bakit ‘yung kay Vice President Binay, nag-9 hearings na kayo? Dito, isa pa lang, pinipigilan mo na ‘yung committee?’ So I will not agree with that. But I am willing to abide by the vote. If the committee meets and take a vote on it, I will abide with that vote,” he said.

(Personally, I don’t want to be saying, “You’ve conducted 9 hearings so far on the one involving Vice President Jejomar Binay. But this one, you want to want to restrain the committee after just one hearing?”)

United Nationalist Alliance interim president Toby Tiangco also slammed Senator Antonio Trillanes IV for his supposed “double standard.”

Tiangco noted that the witnesses against Vice President Binay also used Wikipedia information, but he did not condemn or ridicule them.


Drilon, for his part, said he would leave it up to blue ribbon committee chairperson Teofisto Guingona III to decide whether to stop the probe into the ICC. He indicated, however, that the chairman should consider the sentiment of the senators which actually favored discontinuing the heairng.

“I am certain that Senator Guingona will take consideration of the views of his  colleagues – of the almost unanimous view of his colleagues – on this matter,” Drilon said Monday.

Drilon also pointed to a proposal by some senators that any new witnesses – such as his political nemesis, Syjuco – should be required to submit affidavits first before they are allowed to appear in Senate hearings “para naman hindi abusuhin ang proseso sa Senado (so the process in the Senate is not abused).” –

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