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‘Probing Makati overprice not over’

MANILA, Philippines—Sen. Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel III said that after the initial hearing on the allegedly “overpriced” Makati building, the “issues have been joined,” meaning that the accusers have had their say and the accused given the chance to air their side and deny the allegations.

“Therefore, we’re going to find out who is telling the truth, whose side the truth falls on. We want objective truth from documents, from facts, from the flow, the timetable,” said Pimentel, chair of the blue ribbon subcommittee conducting the inquiry.

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“There are many phases to this inquiry and as the phases continue, I hope there will be less and less political talk…. If they keep on repeating accusations already said, that’s taking advantage of the hearings for political purposes,” he added.

As for criticism that the Senate inquiry was not the proper venue to investigate the allegations, Pimentel said there were issues and legislation related to the case that could not be resolved by a court.

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These include the review of auditing rules, the propriety of implementing infrastructure projects in phases and how detailed the local budgeting should be, he said.

Vice President Jejomar Binay, mayor of Makati City when its 11-story parking building was constructed starting 2007, said the structure was not overpriced contrary to the allegations of his political opponents.

“For the prosecutors, I never heard anything there that was in aid of legislation,” Binay said.

Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel III

Senator Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel III. INQUIRER.net FILE PHOTO

Binay blamed politicking, especially instigated by potential rivals for the presidency in 2016, for the ongoing Senate investigation of the building, which a critic claimed was the country’s most expensive parking building.

Binay said he would still see if he would be able to attend the Senate hearing on the alleged overpriced P2.3-billion parking building because he was busy overseeing many housing programs.

His son, Makati City Mayor Jejomar Erwin “Junjun” Binay Jr., took quite a beating the other day when he was peppered with questions by Senate Majority Leader Alan Peter Cayetano and Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV on the alleged overpriced construction of the building.

Renato Bondal and Nicolas Enciso—political rivals of the Binays in Makati—said the building should have cost only P700 million.

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Their plunder complaint against the Binays formed the basis of the Senate inquiry into the alleged overpricing of the building.

The Senate probe was sought by Trillanes of the Nacionalista Party, a rival of the Binays’ United Nationalist Alliance.

Pimentel has also had a falling out with the Vice President.

Red flags

The Commission on Audit will conduct a special audit of the project after COA Chair Grace Pulido-Tan noted “red flags” such as the division of the project into five phases and the swift award of contracts.

Tan said at the Senate blue ribbon probe of the project a COA evaluation report that the Makati mayor presented and which cleared the project of any overpricing was not final yet.

Interviewed after he attended a commemoration rite of the 31st death anniversary of Sen. Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino Jr., Binay told reporters asking him to comment on the Senate hearing to judge for themselves how a subcommittee of the Senate blue ribbon committee was conducting the inquiry.

VP offended

He also said he would be a “hypocrite” if he would deny he was not offended by the way some senators questioned his son on the allegedly overpriced parking building, now a subject of plunder cases filed against both of them in the Office of the Ombudsman.

Binay said he was also “sad” about the turn of events at the Senate hearing.

“But then, one senator had said that the project was being investigated because I am running for President. Wow, you can really see the political motive here,” Binay said.

He did not name the senator initially but later said that it was Trillanes.

“Isn’t he also planning to run (for President)?” Binay said of Trillanes, who has declared plans to run for “higher” office.

Asked whether he thought the Senate subcommittee should halt its investigation, Binay said it was up to the panel because he had no power to tell it to do so.

Told that his son, on questioning by Cayetano, said it was possible that there was an overprice of the building’s construction and was just not aware of it since the mayor had relied on reports of his subordinates, Binay said: “That is one of the speculations.”

Not final yet

Asked whether he shared his son’s view on the possibility that the building was overpriced, the Vice President said he did not share such speculation.

The elder Binay acknowledged that the COA report presented by his son as defense to allegations of overpricing was not final yet.

“Junjun did not say that it was a final report. He only said there was a report,” he said.

Binay also addressed some issues that were raised at the Senate hearing.

Elevator at home

On allegations that other buildings like Makati City Hall and Ospital ng Makati he had put up under his watch as mayor were also overpriced, Binay said the Senate investigation was supposed to focus only on the parking building.

Binay dismissed as “recycled” the accusation against him that Makati City Hall’s free birthday gifts for senior citizens were also overpriced.

Asked about his son’s acknowledgement that his house had an elevator as pointed out by Bondal the other day, the Vice President said his son had the elevator constructed for his then pregnant ailing wife, who had since passed away after giving birth.

“I don’t know why my son’s elevator is such a big issue,” he said.

Pimentel said the next phase of the inquiry would delve into auditing processes and the features of the building.

Pimentel said he hoped for less politicking in next week’s hearing, especially since the complainants against the Binays had already stated their case.

Proposals to invite the Vice President to the hearing might also be tackled next week, he said.

World-class, green

The mayor also explained the cost by saying that it was a “world-class” building and Makati’s version of a green building and that its foundation had to be strengthened because of the soft ground on which it was built.

But the COA chair said the report Binay cited had yet to be validated, and that the agency was set to conduct a special audit of the project.

Pimentel said yesterday that he was interested in pursuing questions on the auditing of local government unit (LGU) building projects, particularly when officials claim the structure to be a “green building,” and thus more expensive.

COA circular

He also said the LGUs could say they built the green building using their own style to justify the costs.

Pimentel pointed out that the COA issued a 2012 circular telling auditors to guard against irregular, unnecessary and extravagant expenses.

“What if the LGUs use the green building argument, that we’re putting up such a building and it is necessarily more expensive than what we’ve been used to? How will the COA now interpret that? Is the green building extravagant or irregular?” he said.

There is also a Philippine Green Building Council, but there is no requirement to get a certification from it, he added.

Pimentel also plans to pose questions to Hilmarcs Construction Corp., which bagged the contracts for all of the phases of the Makati parking building. It had also won the contracts for other Makati buildings, he noted.

He said he was leaning toward supporting Trillanes’ proposal for the Senate to inspect the parking building to determine what made it “world-class.”

“The description of the building as  ‘world-class’ is very subjective,” he said.

For instance, he said he wanted to know if having two elevators for a building of that size was considered world-class. He would also like to know the capacity of the elevator.

Politically charged

The blue ribbon committee’s first hearing on the alleged overprice was marked by politics, with senators complaining that Bondal was resorting to name-calling against the Binays and using “politically charged” words.

Bondal also tried to expand the scope of the hearing by claiming that cakes given out by Makati were overpriced.

Sen. Nancy Binay has said she was “hurt” at the proceedings, where the warning against the words used, including “thief,” came too late.

“The Senate was used to give them the opportunity to say hurtful words,” she had said.

Mayor Binay, in his opening statement, also said the case against him and his father was a product of politics, as he noted that Bondal was a candidate of the Nacionalista Party (NP) in 2013, and his running mate Kid Peña was from the Liberal Party (LP).

Bondal said he was initially given an NP certificate, but eventually ran as independent.

Binay further pointed out that an NP-LP alliance had run against the Binays in the last two elections.

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TAGS: Aquilino "Koko" Pimentel III, overpriced building, Senate pribe
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