Senate of the Philippines

Escudero suspends construction of new Senate building due to ‘escalating costs’

Bonz Magsambol

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Escudero suspends construction of new Senate building due to ‘escalating costs’

FLAG. Senate President Francis “Chiz” Escudero leads the flag ceremony at the Senate in Pasay City on June 10, 2024.

Angie de Silva/Rappler

(1st UPDATE) The Senate president orders a halt after meeting with Senator Alan Peter Cayetano, who flagged the ‘dramatic increase in the project’s budget from an initial P8.9 billion to a projected P23.3 billion’

MANILA, Philippines – Newly installed Senate President Francis “Chiz” Escudero has suspended the construction of the new Senate building in Fort Bonifacio, Taguig over “escalating costs and the need for a comprehensive review.”

Escudero suspends construction of new Senate building due to ‘escalating costs’

Escudero announced this on Monday, June 10, during the flag ceremony with Senate offcials and staff in their current building in Pasay City, which is being rented out by the Government Service Insurance System.

The Senate president flagged the additional cost of P10 billion to complete the construction.

The initial budget was only P8.9 billion. Prior to the suspension, a P4.1 billion additional cost was incurred.

“Para sa akin, medyo mabigat lunukin at kagulat-gulat naman talaga (For me, it’s difficult to swallow and really shocking),” he told the Senate staff, referring to the P23 billion total estimated cost to finish the construction.

“Nung nakita ko ito, medyo nagulantang ako at hindi ko inasahan na ganun kalaki aabutin ang gagastusin para sa ating magiging bagong tahanan,” Escudero said. (When I saw this, I was somehow startled and I didn’t expect that it would be that expensive to build our new home.)

The Senate officials and staff were initially eyeing to move to the new building in September. “Hindi rin totoo na aabot tayo makalipat bago matapos ang taon. Kahit hanggang 2025, sa palagay ko ay hindi pa rin dahil marami pang bagay na kailangang ihanda at maraming bagay din na aming nakita at nagisnan na kailangan pang suriin at pag-aralan,” Escudero said.

(We will not be able to move to the new building before the year ends. Even in 2025, I think it’s also impossible since there are still a lot of things that need to be prepared and a lot of things are needed to be reviewed and studied.)

Escudero said that he decided on the suspension after meeting with Senator Alan Peter Cayetano, who now chairs the committee on accounts. Cayetano had flagged the “dramatic increase in the project’s budget from an initial P8.9 billion to a projected P23.3 billion.”

Cayetano’s report also emphasized problems on procurement delays and missteps by the project manager, the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH), which have “contributed to project slowdowns and cost overruns.”

“Inutusan ko na si Senator Cayetano, base na rin sa kanyang rekomendasyon at sulat, na ipagpaliban muna anumang bayarin o gawain hangga’t hindi natin nasusuri at napag-aaralan,” Escudero said. (I asked Senator Cayetano, based on his own recommendation and letter, that we need to put on hold what needs to be done and paid pending review and study.)

Inspections done by the Senate Coordination Team revealed poor “quality of workmanship and adherence to the original terms of reference.” 

The construction began under the leadership of former Senate president Tito Sotto. Former senator Ping Lacson was chairman of the committee on accounts at that time.

The contract was awarded to Hilmarc’s Construction Corporation. It’s the same company that was embroiled in the overpriced P2.3-billion Makati City Hall Building II.

Lacson’s reply

In a message to Senate reporters, Lacson said that while he agrees with the suspension decided by Escudero, he emphasized that not a single peso of the P10.3 billion was released to the DPWH since Senator Nancy Binay, who succeeded him as accounts chairman, had “objected to the DPWH’s requests for variation orders (VOs).”

“The DPWH is the implementing agency so it submits cost estimates and VOs. However, at the end of the day, it is the Senate that will accept or not the proposed additional budget allocations of the DPWH,” he said.

Lacson also defended the new completion cost of P23 billion because it “includes the cost of the fit-out accessories and technical components of the security system as well as the land acquisition which was valued at that time at P1.62 billion.”

Delays mean more cost adjustment

In a statement later on Monday, Binay said that it was made clear in 2019 that the initial P8.9 billion was only for “core and shell” of the building, which means that the furnishing and interior are “entirely separate.”

Binay also said that Escudero was made aware of project cost as early as 2019.

“During my watch as chair of the committee on accounts, we sent official invitations to all senators for ocular inspections and one-on-one briefings about the progress, status, timelines, and other matters with regard the new Senate building,” she said.

“There is a sense of urgency to complete the construction by 2025. Delays would mean cost adjustments, additional charges, penalties, and another round of rental [fees to GSIS],” Binay added. –

1 comment

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  1. ET

    Will and can COA come in? The project has taken a long time to complete, and the budget has increased from P 8.9 billion to P 23.2 billion. The Filipino people deserve to know.

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Bonz Magsambol

Bonz Magsambol covers the Philippine Senate for Rappler.