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File photo by Joseph Vidal/Senate PRIB
MANILA, Philippines – “I’m encouraging everybody who knows the truth to stand up.”
Senators Antonio Trillanes IV and Alan Peter Cayetano called on Makati businessmen and residents to speak up on long-running rumors about the corruption of Vice President Jejomar Binay and his family in Makati.
Trillanes, who filed a resolution to investigate the allegedly overpriced Makati “parking building,” said he is willing to include in the Senate investigation allegations that the Binays get condo units in exchange for permits in the financial center for as long as witnesses can present “substantial evidence.”
“People have been living in fear out of retribution on their businesses, that’s why we have this [investigation]. This is the first time, the best opportunity to open up the local government procurement system because nobody is looking all these years,” Trillanes told Rappler in a phone interview on Monday, August 25.
Cayetano issued a similar call, citing information he got from companies “that left Makati and moved to Taguig,” where his wife, Lani, is now mayor.
“We heard a lot of horror stories of corruption in Makati. My appeal is now is the time to speak up. I’ve talked to a lot of architects, quantity surveyors who do not want to speak up because they have many projects in Makati. My warning to them is: if you refuse to talk, this will continue and become a model for other local government units,” Cayetano told Rappler.
The majority leader urged businessmen to use their associations if they are afraid to speak up as individuals.
Joey Salgado, Binay’s spokesman and public information chief of the Makati City government, could not be reached for comment as of posting time.
The Senate investigation initially focused on the 11-storey Makati City Hall Building 2, allegedly overpriced by P2 billion ($45.65 million).
The mayor of Makati for 21 years, Binay and his son Makati Mayor Jejomar Erwin “Junjun” Binay are the subjects of the Senate blue ribbon committee probe and a plunder complaint filed by their political rivals. The structure was first built in 2007, when the Vice President was still mayor and completed in 2013, under his son’s term.
Yet Trillanes said his resolution mentioned “other anomalies,” which can expand the hearing to include the allegedly overpriced cakes for senior citizens and other issues.
“If it circumvents the procurement laws or other laws related to corruption, why will we turn a blind eye? [If] it’s already presented to us in the investigation, then we’ll say, ‘No, we can’t tackle that even though it’s also a blatant act of corruption.’ It’s absurd. The focus is to uncover alleged wrongdoings of the Vice President. If they will uncover, we will pursue,” Trillanes said.
Both members of the administration-allied Nacionalista Party (NP), Trillanes and Cayetano have been active in the investigation that started on August 20 and will resume on August 26, Tuesday. They have expressed interest in higher office, possibly running against the opposition's Binay, who has been leading surveys for the 2016 presidential polls despite corruption allegations.
The Binays have said that the structure is not a mere “parking building” and houses offices with centralized air conditioning, granite floors, two elevators, an atrium, a roof top deck, and used “heavy reinforcement” to strengthen its foundation. They reject the Senate inquiry as politically motivated and "in aid of destruction" or a demolition job.
Photo from Makati PIO
Rigged bidding, tax evasion?
Senator Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel III has said that among those invited to the next hearing on Tuesday, August 26, is the contractor of the building, Hilmarc’s Construction Corporation.
Trillanes said he has evidence that the bidding for the alleged parking building was rigged, based on procurement documents. He refused to detail the allegations but said he will “exhaustively” expound on this in the committee report.
The senator said that the “red flags” were clear. “For a multi-billion-peso project, there’s only one winning bidder for 5 phases, and in those phases, there’s only one bidder. Malabo iyon. (That’s questionable.) Plus the amounts of the winning bids, it’s a couple of thousand pesos below the amount allocated. That doesn’t happen in reality.”
“For example, if there’s a P500 million ($11.40 million) budget, the winning bidder would bid P499 million ($9.12 million) and so much thousand. So they wanted to maximize [the price]. If you’re not sure you will win, you have to make sure the price is low enough but these people are not concerned,” Trillanes added.
The senator said he will also ask the contractor about evidence he got on Hilmarc’s alleged tax evasion.
In the first hearing, Cayetano pointed out that Hilmarc’s won the bidding in other major structures in Makati like Makati University, Makati City Hall, police station, swimming pool, and Ospital ng Makati.
Cayetano said there were many “red flags” in the alleged parking building while all of Mayor Binay’s arguments – that the building was world class, a green building, and had expensive foundation – were disproved in the first hearing.
“My frustration is it’s so obvious, it’s just common sense that if the rule of thumb or industry average was P23,000 ($524) per square meter and your price is P80,000 ($1,824) per square meter. Another red flag is how come no one assessed the whole building but they did the assessment chop-chop or per phase? It’s not just a red flag. It’s so big that it’s a red country,” Cayetano quipped.
Commission on Audit Chairperson Grace Pulido Tan has said that her agency will conduct a special audit of the building after clarifying that it issued no certification that it was reasonably priced.
File photo by Albert Calvelo/Senate PRIB
Possible subpoena for VP Binay
The Vice President has refused to say whether or not he will face the Senate investigation. His daughter, Senator Nancy Binay, said on Monday that the committee should instead pursue the long-delayed investigation into the P900 million ($20.52 million) Malampaya Fund scam.
Trillanes said the committee is not ruling out issuing a subpoena for the Vice President. He disputed Binay’s argument that the allegations were “recycled.”
“That line is the refuge of the corrupt,” Trillanes said. “This is not old. This is the first time that the general public is getting to hear about what’s happening in Makati. So in fact, he should welcome this is a challenge. This is the best opportunity for him to once and for all clear his name and really present himself to the Filipino people that he’s most qualified candidate come 2016.”
Cayetano agreed, saying the Vice President should “stop using his children as talking heads.” He again challenged the Binays to file a resolution to investigate the graft case against him and his wife in Taguig, to avoid criticism of “selective justice.”
The two NP members said the committee will set the schedule for the ocular inspection of the Makati building after the Tuesday hearing.
“We want to see the so-called world class standards of the Makati carpark building that the Binays said justified the very high price,” Trillanes said.
“Probably if there’s gold-plated hand railings in the stairs, we’ll just have to find out for ourselves or maybe there are golden toilet seats in the public restrooms. Who knows?” – Rappler.com