MANILA, Philippines – “Is there a possibility they bid out the building overpriced and they fooled you?”
Senate Majority Leader Alan Peter Cayetano quizzed Makati Mayor Jejomar Erwin “Junjun” Binay Jr on the details of the controversial Makati City Hall Building 2, which his family’s political rivals claim to be overpriced by almost P2 billion ($45.65 million).
Under questioning from Cayetano, the son and political heir of Vice President Jejomar Binay conceded that the structure constructed under the term of his father and his own leadership of Makati may have been overpriced.
Cayetano asked: “You were not the one who bid this but the [bids and awards committee]. Is there a possibility they bid this overpriced and fooled you?”
Binay responded, “These are possibilities. I cannot answer that.”
Cayetano pursued his line of questioning. “So it’s possible, Mayor, that it is overpriced and you do not know?”
Binay said: “There will be a possibility. You’re right, sir.”
In the Senate hearing into the building on Wednesday, August 20, Binay reiterated his stance that the building was not overpriced but could not readily give the details and data that Cayetano and Senator Antonio Trillanes IV were asking.
Critics of the Binays, Cayetano and Trillanes are members of the Nacionalista Party (NP) and have both expressed interest in running for higher office in 2016. Vice President Binay is the leading contender in presidential surveys, and leads the two NP members with a wide margin.
Cayetano told the younger Binay: “Senator Trillanes asked you: how much was spent for the foundation of the building because technical people say that was expensive. You said you do to know. So how do you know if there was an overprice or not if you do not know?”
The majority leader also asked Binay whether or not he compared the price of the building with those of other structures near the Pasig River. The mayor has said that soft soil was a factor in the construction cost because the building was near the Pasig River.
Yet Cayetano pointed out that The Grove by Rockwell was also near the Pasig River but cost 3 or 4 times less than the Makati building. He said the two structures had the same contractor: Hilmarc’s Construction Corporation.
“By simply looking at the building done by Hilmarc, you will see if there was overpricing or not but no one in COA (Commission on Audit) or in your office did that,” Cayetano said.
The Senate blue ribbon committee is investigating the building allegedly overpriced by at least P1.9 billion ($43 million*). The Senate resolution of Trillanes is based on the plunder and graft complaint lawyer Renato Bondal and Nicolas “Ching” Enciso VI filed against the Binays before the Ombudsman.
Ties to contractor, Makati-Taguig rivalry
Cayetano also sought to establish Binay’s ties with the contractor. He said Hilmarc’s won various projects in Makati like Makati University, Makati City Hall, police station, swimming pool, and Ospital ng Makati.
“In each phase, it’s the same winner? It’s the same one winning? Don’t get me wrong. I know Hilmarc’s is well known in the private sector. Their works are good, but isn’t it a red flag that it is the same one winning the projects?”
Binay responded that if a contractor wins the bid, he believes “nothing is anomalous.”
Cayetano then asked him about Efren Canlas of Hilmarc’s, whom Binay denied to be his “personal friend.” The senator then said that Canlas is president of the Construction Safety Foundation (CSFI) while Binay is chairman.
Cayetano said, “Magkasama kayo sa isang foundation, pero 'di kayo magkakilala?” (You are together in the same foundation, but you do not know him?)
Binay said he has not attended the meetings of the foundation. Cayetano replied that he will take Binay’s answer “at face value.”
The former Taguig representative then went on to compare Makati to Taguig, the city where his wife Lani is now mayor. Makati and Taguig have had a long-running rivalry over Fort Bonifacio, and now over their leaders’ political plans in 2016.
“Napakaganda ng mga program ng Makati. We don't dispute that. Ang tanong: Overpriced ba? Sa Taguig, we also have good programs, pero 'di ganoon ang presyo,” Cayetano said. (Makati has good programs. The question is: are they overpriced? In Taguig, we also have good programs, but the price is not like that.)
Incidentally, Cayetano and his wife were charged with graft over allegedly overpriced multi-cabs in Taguig on the same day as the Senate hearing.
Nancy: They ganged up on my brother
Cayetano challenged the Vice President to attend the future hearings. He even coined the term “Binayrroyo” to say that the Binays were becoming like former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo in supposedly evading charges against them.
Senator Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel III, who is leading the investigation, said the Vice President will be invited but not compelled to attend.
Pimentel said he will conduct the next hearing on Tuesday, August 26, to resolve remaining issues, noting that even the basic details about the building, like its floor area, were disputed.
“A COA Circular 2012-003 prohibits excessive, unnecessary, irregular expenses. Now, if someone from the local government wants to create a world-class building, is that a violation of the circular, especially when unnecessary, extravagant materials are used?”
Binay had explained that the price of the building went up because it was “world-class.”
Pimentel said another issue was whether or not it is irregular for local government units (LGUs) to divide projects into phases, noting he is aware of other LGUs using the scheme.
To Mayor Binay’s elder sister, Senator Nancy Binay, it was no longer surprising how Trillanes and Cayetano conducted themselves. The senator refused to join the hearing, saying she did not want to be accused of "lawyering" for her father and brother like other senators did on the administration's spending program.
“Walang laban ang kapatid ko eh…. Feeling ko kulang na lang ang mga kasamahan ko, ukitan ako sa noo ng ‘M: Magnanakaw.’” (My brother could not fight back. I feel like my colleagues stopped short of branding me on the forehead as a thief.)
Senator Binay reiterated her challenge for Trillanes and Cayetano to impeach her father instead of summoning him to the hearing.
“Kasi mag-appear siya dito, for whose media mileage? Not ours! (He will appear here, but for whose media mileage? Not ours!) – Rappler.com