Senate of the Philippines

[Vantage Point] Senate feud shields doubtful costs of new building

Val A. Villanueva

This is AI generated summarization, which may have errors. For context, always refer to the full article.

[Vantage Point] Senate feud shields doubtful costs of new building

David Castuciano/Rappler

(1st UPDATE) While the Senate plans to spend lavishly on its new home, many students are being schooled outside proper classrooms – exposed to the elements, sometimes with only verdant trees protecting them from the rain or scorching sun

The public spat between Senators Nancy Binay and Alan Peter Cayetano over the escalating cost of the New Senate Building (NSB) has culminated into the former filing an ethics complaint against the latter.

If you live under a rock, you may not have heard about the recent Senate sideshow that has become the nation’s latest gossip fodder.

Senate President Chiz Escudero ordered a halt to the construction of the NSB pending due diligence regarding its escalating project cost. Cayetano and Binay swapped acrimonious barbs during a Senate hearing on July 3, a scene that many people found excruciating to watch. Cayetano, who is leading the due diligence call, is the new chairman of the Senate accounts committee after Binay resigned following the ouster of Senator Juan Miguel Zubiri as Senate president.

Binay walks out of Cayetano hearing | The wRap

Binay walks out of Cayetano hearing | The wRap

At one point during the heated exchange, Cayetano told Binay, “You said that someone is backstabbing you. What will they think? Ma’am, I’ll tell you one thing, your name is Lourdes, not Marites …” (Marites – derived from the name “Maritess” – in the Filipino slang refers to a person, usually a woman, who is excessively talkative, chatty, or gossipy.) “Nabuang ka na, ‘day [“You’ve gone crazy, lady.],” Cayetano also told Binay who walked out of the hearing

Binay said the complaint she filed against Cayetano was based on three grounds: Cayetano’s name-calling; the allegation that she fed the media questions during her radio interviews; and the way resource persons were treated during the Senate inquiry where they were not allowed to properly respond to Cayetano’s allegations.

Granting that Cayetano has the interest of the public in mind in trying to ferret out the truth about what appears to be a pricey tag on the NSB, I found it disgusting for him to utter such unparliamentary language. Instead of conducting a fair and decent hearing, his reason for name-calling is beyond me and beneath the position to which he was elected. 

What happens when a Senate ethics complaint is filed?

What happens when a Senate ethics complaint is filed?
What we know

The Senate does not own a permanent home. Since May 1, 1996, it has been renting for over ₱127 million yearly six floors of a building in Pasay City owned by the Government Service Insurance System (GSIS) and its parking lot from the Social Security System (SSS). It was precisely because of this high rent expense that then-Senate president Aquilino “Nene” Pimentel Jr. had proposed in 2000 the construction of a Senate building in Batasan Hills in Quezon City at a budget of ₱41.163 million. However, the project was discontinued, and the building was repurposed for the electoral tribunals of the Senate and the House of Representatives. 

It was only in 2017 that plans for a new Senate Building made significant progress. Senator Win Gatchalian filed Philippine Senate (PS) Resolution 293 which created an ad hoc committee to conduct a feasibility study for the construction of a new Senate building. 

The NSB was to be built in Taguig with an initial budget of ₱8.9 billion. Costs have since escalated, with the current estimate reaching ₱23.379 billion. Of this amount, ₱8.9 billion is just for the core and shell of the building; ₱2.5 billion for the fit-out; and to complete the project, another ₱10.3 billion would have to be spent. Land acquisition from the Bases Conversion and Development Authority (BCDA) was at ₱1.6 billion.

The building has a helipad and a garden deck that connects its four towers. It also has three floors dedicated to the offices of the 24 senators. The senators’ plenary hall, located in the middle of the garden deck, will have a skylight made of tempered glass. There will also be an auditorium on the ground floor and three underground parking levels that can fit about 1,200 cars. The new building is designed to provide more working space for the Senate, which has been renting six floors at the current GSIS building since 1996.

Phase 1 of the building construction costs ₱8.6 billion, which covers the glass windows and a number of elevators. Phase 2, which costs ₱2.375 billion, is now 18% complete.

The construction covered by the second phase includes installation of tiles, ceiling works, the elevators, generator sets, fire protection and escalators.

Although it has not yet been finalized, the installation of lights, partition wall and cooling system, and fittings of the sinks and restrooms will occur in Phase 3 at a reported cost ₱5.7 billion. The total budget of Phases 1, 2 and 3 is ₱16.675 billion.

Escudero’s concerns about the significant increase in NSB costs, to my vantage point, is warranted. But Cayetano’s zealousness could paint a different optics. The Binays and Cayetanos have been feuding since I can remember. 

Sen. Peter Cayetano was one of the key Senate figures who investigated Nancy Binay’s brother, then-Makati Mayor Jejomar “Junjun” Binay who in 2014, was accused of padding the cost of the P2.2 billion Makati Parking Building by 300%. And then, Binay’s sister, concurrent Makati Mayor Abigail and Peter’s wife, Taguig Mayor Lani, went head to head in a battle of turf which the latter won. In a landmark ruling in 2022, the Supreme Court awarded the Fort Bonifacio and the Enlisted Men’s Barrios (EMBO) to Taguig.

Is NSB overpriced?

So far, in the recent Senate hearing, some of the details of the NSB costs that were discovered have been shocking; ₱600-million-plus for landscaping, and over half-a-billion pesos for broadcast systems.

Also revealed during the hearing were the procedural lapses committed by the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH), which led to delays that exacerbated costs. The resulting total time extension of 852 days will cost taxpayers some ₱78.9 million.

But let’s not get sidetracked by the Binay-Cayetano spectacle or whatever their politics are. Let’s focus on the real issue here: Whether the NSB construction cost is ₱21.7 billion or ₱23.3 billion, it’s still staggering for a country whose 22.4% poverty rate as of 2023 means 25.24 million Filipinos have a per capita income that is not even enough to meet their basic food and non-food needs.

These numbers should be a cause for concern for every tax-paying Filipino: The proposed landscaping cost of  ₱663.2 million can build 265 classrooms. More than half a billion pesos (₱577 million) has been allotted to a broadcasting system. Now, pray tell, is the Senate going to put up its own radio/TV station? How many broadcast studios are they planning to put up? One for each of the 24 of them? And then, the completion of NSB requires another ₱10.3 billion.

While the Senate plans to spend lavishly on its new home, many students are being schooled outside proper classrooms – exposed to the elements, sometimes with only verdant trees protecting them from the rain or scorching sun.

And to think that our taxes are paying for the procedural lapses and delays in the NSB construction, with the DPWH unsure if it can finish the job on time. Such delays only reveal how lack of foresight and thorough planning can lead to a budget overshoot. 

The huge funding allocated for the NSB reflects our lawmakers’ wrong spending priorities. The money allotted for constructing a “home” for these 24 public servants could and should be put to better use in meeting urgent public needs in education, health, economic development, social welfare services, transportation, law and order, environmental protection, and science and culture, among others. As public servants, they are in office to serve the Filipino people, and not the other way around. –

What’s the controversy over the P23-B new Senate building all about?

What’s the controversy over the P23-B new Senate building all about?

1 comment

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  1. ET

    I strongly agree that the recent incident shows that the Senate lacks foresight and thorough planning and has the wrong spending priorities. They speak of serving the people, but in this regard, they are really serving themselves first.

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