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Binay: Senate wasting taxpayers' money in Makati probe

MANILA, Philippines – Why should the Philippine Senate investigate local government issues?

Makati Mayor Junjun Binay on Monday, August 18, questioned the scheduled Senate hearing on the alleged overpricing of the city’s second city hall building, saying it was a “purely local matter” and would be a “waste of taxpayer’s money.”

“Does this warrant a Senate investigation? I will tell you no because this is a purely local matter, our local detractors filed a case who are members of the NP (Nationalista Party) and in coalition with the Liberal Party. And now it’s raised to the Senate because my father is running for president,” Binay told Karen Davila on ANC’s (ABS-CBN News Channel) Headstart.

Binay and his father, Vice President Jejomar Binay face plunder charges over an allegedly “overpriced parking building” in the city. In a 9-page complaint filed before the Ombudsman, Renato L. Bondal and Nicolas "Ching" Enciso VI called the Makati City Hall Building 2 the “most expensive parking building in the entire country, if not the entire world.”

The complainants allege that the two Binays – the father as city mayor then and the son as city councillor – “violated every rule in construction manuals and government procedures in pushing for a project that was grossly overpriced and funded by various loans.”

The Binays have denied the claims.

Weeks after the plunder complaint was filed, Senator Antonio Trillanes, a member of the NP, called for a Senate investigation into the issue. The probe begins Wednesday, August 20.

Trillanes, in filing the resolution, 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.”

But the younger Binay thinks otherwise. “[The investigation] is intended to malign the name of my father, to malign our family. And this Senate investigation really is in aide of someone’s political ambition,” he said.

What about Iloilo? 

Despite his concerns, Binay said he will attend the inquiry to once again explain their side of the story. “We’re not hiding anything,” he added.

The Binays earlier hit back at allegations against them, saying the cost of the building is justified. The structure, which was initially pegged at P245.56 million (about $5.5M) eventually ended up with a final contract price of over P1.56 billion (about $350M), according to complainants.

Construction began in 2007 and ended in 2013, covering the terms of both father and son. The younger Binay echoed his father’s statements in the past, questioning why the complainants used figures from the National Statistics Office (NSO) in arguing that the building was priced 6 times higher than the ideal cost.

Binay explained the NSO numbers has its “limitations” when it comes to comparing building costs per square meter. The mayor said it was the Commission on Audit itself that said NSO averages would not be a good point of comparison. The city’s COA auditor is also among the respondents in the plunder case.

Besides, said Binay, if the ratio of land area and cost of construction is the basis of tagging a structure as overpriced, another city building comes to mind: the Iloilo convention center. 

The center, which is still under construction, will cost between P700 million to P1 billion (about $240M) through funds from LP stalwart and Senate President Franklin Drilon's pork barrel, the tourism department, and the Tourism Infrastructure and Enterprise Zone Authority. 

The center itself is around 6,400 square meters big, putting the cost of development at around P109,000/square meter. Binay stopped short of questioning why the center wasn't the subject of a probe but said it was of "national interest" since it was funded partly from national government's funds. 

"If you compare two government buildings, alin ang lalabas na mas mura? Definitely ang sa amin but let's not fall into the trap kasi hindi natin alam kung ano ang mga materials na ginamit sa Iloilo," said Binay. 

(Which comes out cheaprer? Definitely ours but let's not fall into the trap because we don't know what kind of materials were used in Iloilo.) 

Also speaking on Headstart during Binay's interview was Senator Koko Pimentel, who is set to lead the Senate probe.

Asked if the investigation was "necessary," Pimentel said the discussion  was "moot and academic" adding that "under the Senate Blue Ribbon committee's rules, any matter of public interest can be investigated." 

"They should not worry because I will be very very objective as the presiding officer," Pimentel told Binay. 

Asked if the Senate was willing to investigate the Iloilo structure, Pimentel said: "If a senator files a resolution and the plenary refers it to a committee then no one wants to chair, then I will volunteer to chair the investigation." 

LP agenda?

Binay said the family is open to the investigation, but lamented that it was a waste of resources. “Pwede bang imbestigahan ng Senate (Can the Senate investigate the issue)? Yes. Yun nga lang (But), it doesn’t warrant a Senate investigation because the Ombudsman has already gained jurisdiction over this matter,” said Binay.

The mayor’s older sister, Senator Nancy Binay, has similarly expressed opposition to the probe.

The younger Binay said Bondal, one of the complainants in the case, is a member of the NP and allied with the LP during the last elections. Binay said the complaint against him and his father was a clear case of “partisan politics.”

He questioned why Bondal did not include his allies – former vice mayor Ernesto Mercado of the Nationalista Party and incumbent Vice Mayor Romulo Peña, Jr. of the Liberal Party – in the complaint even if they were signatories to an ordinance that allowed the appropriation of funds for the building.

Peña himself was the author of the measure, said Binay. The said ordinance, said Binay, was not included in the plunder case filed against them.

“There’s a grand plan here. Can you imagine if ma-suspend ako and the rest of the councilors? You’ll have a LP mayor sitting as acting mayor and can you imagine… they were there, they were authors and yet they weren’t part of the case,” said Binay.

“This is clearly selective justice,” he added. – Rappler.com