COA chief: ‘Red flags’ in Makati Science HS too

Bea Cupin
COA chief: ‘Red flags’ in Makati Science HS too

Mark Fredesjed R. Cristino

Commission on Audit chairperson Grace Pulido-Tan also clarifies that contrary to the claim of the Binay camp, her agency has not 'cleared' the building

MANILA, Philippines – The Commission on Audit (COA) has also detected “red flags” in the construction of the P1.3-billion  ($28.92 million*) Makati Science High School building, its chairperson told a Senate panel probing overprice allegations against the project.

Responding to questions, COA chairperson Grace Pulido-Tan told the Senate blue ribbon subcommittee on Tuesday, November 18, that the 10-storey building, constructed in 6 phases, has no “inspection report or a similar document” for the last 3 phases. 

While Tan clarified that she was “not making a judgment” on the project since its audit is ongoing, she said records on file show that “COA has a good reason to revisit the audit” of the building. 

Construction and design experts from both the private and public sector earilier estimated that the Makati Science High School building cost much less than its estimated construction cost of over P1.3 billion. 

The initial estimate of the building cost was P348.6 million ($7.758 million).

At the Tuesday hearing, Bureau of Design officials and a private assessor pegged the 10-storey building to cost from P489 million ($10.88 million) to P644 million ($14.33 million). 

The assessments were based on building documents submitted to the Senate, an ocular inspection led by senators over the weekend, and the estimates based on Google Maps searches. 

‘A trap’

The Senate inquiry, chaired by Senator Aquilino Pimentel III, was first convened to probe the alleged overpriced Makati City Building 2 over 3 months ago but it has branched into allegations that Vice President Jejomar Binay had rigged bids and accepted kickbacks during his term as Makati city mayor. 

The high school building was certified “completed” on January 21, 2014,  but the senators who conducted the ocular inspection noted at least two floors were unfinished. 

But the cost, according to one assessor, could be the least of the concerns. 

Federico Cuervo, president and CEO of Cuervo Valuers & Advisory Inc, noted that the building’s exit doors open inwards instead of outwards. “If there’s going to be an earthquake, it’s going to be a trap,” Cuervo noted. 

The property expert also said that the stairs of the  building, as constructed, is not ideal for a high school building – it should have 7-inch, instead of 8-inch, steps.

Senator Antonio Trillanes IV, one of the senators who led the ocular, also noted that the classrooms have poor ventilation, and that the parents of students even had to donate electric fans to the new building. 

Binay’s excuse? 

During the hearing, Tan admitted COA’s lack in “competencies” when it comes to “really good and reliable inspections.”

She said it is the resident auditor who makes requests for the agency’s technical team to conduct inspections; most of the time, the technical team is only able to inspect “visible” parts of the building. Structures embedded or buried are seldom part of reports. 

“There is no hard and fast rule…or a definite time period for when such inspections and evaluations should be made,” Tan said. 

The COA chief also clarified her agency has not “cleared” the building, as claimed by the Binay camp.

“We do not ‘clear’ projects. The inspection reports are there to record that it’s been inspected at that particular point in time,” she said. 

Tan added “clearances” are not required for contractors to receive payments for government projects. “We [COA] do not interfere with payments precisely because it’s conflict of interest,” she said. 

Trillanes pointed out that Binay’s camp has been using COA “clearances” to prove that buildings are not anomalous. “It only goes to show the deceit of the Binay camp,” said Trillanes in Filipino. 

Tan, meanwhile, said it could be a problem of “semantics.” “What do they mean when they say ‘cleared?’” she added. 

Audits on government projects with “red flags” – including the ones in Makati City – can and will be revisited, said Tan. – 

*$1 = P44.9

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Bea Cupin

Bea is a senior multimedia reporter who covers national politics. She's been a journalist since 2011 and has written about Congress, the national police, and the Liberal Party for Rappler.