Binay: Makati even ‘saved’ P200M from building

MANILA, Philippines – Vice President Jejomar Binay on Wednesday, August 27, belittled the allegations against him, saying that Makati even saved P200 million ($4.57 million*) on its so-called “parking building" alleged to be overpriced. 

Instead of facing a Senate investigation to answer the allegations of his critics, Binay opted to hold a press conference where he read an opening statement in the presence of his close allies, and took questions from reporters.

In the briefing at his office at the Coconut Palace in Pasay City, the former Makati mayor said the price of the 11-storey building was not P2.7 billion ($61.79 million), as claimed by Senator Antonio Trillanes IV and the complainants who cited a Commission on Audit (COA) memorandum.

Binay said the estimated cost was P2.4 billion ($54.94 million) but the actual cost turned out to be only P2.2 billion ($50.36 million). The Vice President did not present documents to show this but said the city government has records that will be “the best evidence.”

He said: “P2.4 billion minus P2.2 billion, May P200 million pa nga ang Makati. Ang phases na iyon ay nagkaroon ng phases depende sa availability of funds. Ang estimated cost po ay hindi P2.7 billion na pinalalaki nila. Ang estimated cost po diyan was P2.4 billion. Ngayon, alam ba ninyo at the end of the day, magkano po ang nagastos? P2.2 billion.”

(P2.4 billion minus P2.2 billion. Makati even had P200 million left. The phases were done because the construction depends on the availability of funds. The estimated cost was not P2.7 billion that they are trying to balloon. The estimated cost was P2.4 billion. Now, do you know at the end of the day how much was spent? P2.2 billion.)

Binay also turned the tables on his accusers, who along with COA Chairperson Grace Pulido-Tan questioned the building’s division into 5 phases.

Sabi mo, according to Senator Cayetano,” Binay told this reporter. “Sila mismo nagphe-phasing ah, baka akala mo. Sila rin nagpagawa sa kontratista namin. Hindi naman bawal iyon in the first place ang phasing.”

(You said, according to Senator Cayetano. They themselves do phasing, you know. They used our same contractor. In the first place, phasing is not illegal.)

The Vice President was referring to Senate Majority Leader Alan Peter Cayetano, who said that Makati’s phasing of the building appeared irregular because phases were added supposedly in the project without knowing the final cost. Binay maintained that the city government had P2.4 billion as the estimated cost. (READ: Binay: Senate probe 'badly written telenovela')

Binay’s statement contradicted the stance of the COA chief who told the Senate last week that the practice of dividing projects into phases was a “red flag.” 

Why was awarding too fast?

One red flag Tan cited was the speed by which the building was awarded to the contractor, a process that only took two and a half months instead of what she said was the usual 6 months for a project of this magnitude.

A lawyer, Binay responded: “Just because the project was done quickly, it doesn’t mean it was questionable. It’s not how long you work on it. It’s the quality of time. But it was well within the period of time so provided in the law in instances like this. I think it starts from 44 calendar days to 100.”

Binay's spokesman Joey Salgado later clarified that according to the Procurement Act, the procurement process from posting to award of contract covers a minimum of 28 calendar days and a maximum of 144. 

The Vice President said COA auditors and technical specialists did not make any adverse finding. “COA was there before we did every phase of construction. It was okay with them.”

COA’s resident auditor Cecilia Caga-anan though is a co-respondent of the Binays in the plunder case filed against them. The agency is doing a special audit on the building but Binay doubted how the COA can “reverse” the findings of the resident auditor.

Binay and his son Makati Mayor Jejomar Erwin “Junjun” Binay Jr are accused of overpricing the so-called parking building known as the Makati City Hall Building 2 by almost P2 billion ($45.80 million). They are the subjects of the Senate inquiry and a plunder complaint before the Ombudsman over the issue.

The building was first constructed in 2007, when the elder Binay was mayor, and was finished in 2013 when his son took over.

Binay is the leading candidate for the 2016 presidential elections, where his rivals Cayetano and Trillanes of the Nacionalista Party (NP) are also eyeing higher office.

Contractor made Batangas property?

Binay again pointed to his critics when asked why Hilmarc’s Construction Corporation was the contractor that won all 5 phases of the building, and other buildings in Makati. Senators raised this as another “red flag.”

“Siguro ho tanungin niyo rin siguro ang mga pamahalaan sa Iloilo Convention Center, sa Taguig.Hilmarc’s din ang gumawa noon.” (Maybe you should also ask other government units like Iloilo Convention Center, in Taguig. Hilmarc’s was also the contractor.)

The Iloilo Convention Center is a pet project of Senate President Franklin Drilon of the ruling Liberal Party (LP).

Binay just echoed the statement of his son that Hilmarc's won the bidding. “Boss, may proseso iyon. Either may nag-bid, may nanalo sa bidding, pero hindi porque siya nanalo, hindi nagkaroon ng tamang proseso (Boss, there’s a process there. Either someone bid and won the bidding but just because the contractor won, it doesn’t mean it did not pass through the proper process)."

Binay dismissed the press statement of lawyer Renato Bondal that Hilmarc's was Makati’s “favorite contractor” because it supposedly constructed houses and farm facilities in a property owned by the Binays in Batangas, where the Vice President hails from.

“Ah hindi ko alam iyan eh at I think iyon hong pagiging favorite ho doon kay Hilmarc ay siya po ay nanalo through a process (Oh, I do not know that and I think Hilmarc’s being the favorite was because it won through a process)."

Binay likewise downplayed allegations of conflict of interest between his son and Hilmarc's chairman of the board Efren Canlas, who is also an officer of Construction Safety Foundation, as Cayetano pointed out in the first Senate hearing.

The elder Binay said his son and Canlas were just together in the group but this did not automatically mean there was conflict of interest.

‘Senate did no canvass’

Binay also rejected the standards that the senator had used to determine that the building was overpriced. He said the value given by Cuervo Valuers & Advisory Inc was a mere “market appraisal for a hypothetical building.”

He also dismissed the Davis Langdon and Seah handbook that Cayetano waved and grilled auditors about. Binay even imitated Cayetano in waving the book.

“The handbook that Senator Cayetano is saying is not part of the process that COA follows in its study. That’s not included.”

To determine overpricing, Binay said the Senate should have conducted a “canvass” of materials and supplies used, and do an “apple-to-apple” comparison or compare the government building not with private structures.

“Not once did the Senate do a canvass,” Binay said.

Binay remained defiant, saying no case against him has prospered in court despite the numerous accusations, and long-running rumors about his family’s corruption in Makati.

“Hanggang ngayon, wala pa silang maipakitang ebidensya na overpriced ang building. Uulitin ko: wala akong kaso sa Sandiganbayan (Until now, they cannot show evidence that the building was overpriced. I repeat: I have no case before the Sandiganbayan)."

Malacañang has not outrightly defended of Binay amid the allegations, but Presidential Spokesman Edwin Lacierda said in a news briefing on Wednesday that as a member of the official family of President Benigno Aquino III, the Vice President still enjoys the trust and confidence of the President. – Rappler.com

 *$1 = P43.6