‘Binay made money from Makati building’
MANILA, Philippines–Former Makati City Vice Mayor Ernesto Mercado on Tuesday linked Vice President Jejomar Binay to alleged acts of corruption concerning the supposedly overpriced P2.3-billion Makati parking building.
He implied that Binay received kickbacks from the project because as the vice mayor, he did so as well.
Mercado, a former longtime Binay ally, admitted before a Senate blue ribbon subcommittee that he made money from phases 1 and 2 of the car park project, which he said was supposed to cost only P1.2 billion.
Mercado implied that if he as vice mayor made money from the project, then Binay as mayor likewise did.
Mercado, however, did not offer any proof.
Mercado made the allegations upon questioning by Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV, the main proponent of the Senate inquiry into the parking building of Makati, one of the richest cities in the country.
“Vice mayor, let’s be honest. Did you profit from this?” Trillanes asked.
Mercado said he would tell the truth and replied in Filipino: “Ako ho, aaminin ko sa inyo, doon sa phase 1 at phase 2, nakinabang po ako (I will admit to you that in phase 1 and in phase 2, I earned from them).”
Trillanes followed up his question by asking if the Vice President, who was then the Makati mayor, did so as well.
Mercado answered that Binay most likely did.
“Alam po ninyo, tayo namang politiko, alam natin ang sagot doon. Kung ang vice mayor nakinabang, siguro higit na nakinabang ang mayor dito. Kasi ako naman hindi pumipirma ng kontrata (We politicians know the answer to that. If the vice mayor earned from it, probably the mayor more so because I do not sign contracts),” he said.
“Kung ako ho eh nakinabang, imposible ho naman na hindi din nakinabang ang aking mayor (If I earned from it, it’s impossible that the mayor did not),” he added.
Mercado further said this was the kalakaran (usual practice) when asked by Sen. Aquilino Pimentel III if his assertion was based on personal knowledge or merely the implication of his belief that the mayor would receive something if the vice mayor also did.
When Pimentel pressed Mercado if his statement about Binay getting kickbacks was just his “automatic conclusion,” the former vice mayor answered in the affirmative.
But Mercado also insisted that his claim was the truth when Sen. Alan Peter Cayetano asked him if his statement about Binay was speculation or fact.
None of the senators asked Mercado how much he received and from whom and how.
In an ambush interview, Mercado declined to go into details on how he made money from the car park project, saying he would just reveal what he knows in the proper forum, probably the court.
He said benefits he got from the project did not necessarily refer to money, and could come in the form of logistical help in a campaign. He did not elaborate.
Mercado and Binay had a falling out after the latter withdrew support for Mercado to be the next Makati mayor.
Trillanes also sought the inclusion of Mercado as well as of Renato Bondal and Nicolas Enciso, the complainants against the Binays in the plunder case over the parking building, in the government’s Witness Protection Program (WPP).
This was after Mercado said he had seen cars following him when he would go out.
He initially said he did not want to accuse the Vice President of being behind this, but later, upon the request of Cayetano, read a letter addressed to his family which he kept in his wallet, where he said that if anything untoward happened to him, it was only the Binays who wanted to harm him.
But Mercado also said he wanted more time to think about whether he would apply to get into the WPP, since he had his work to think about. Bondal and Enciso were amenable to entering the WPP.
Pimentel said the proper process for getting them into the WPP must be followed, and one condition is that they must be willing to do so.
Trillanes said that since Mercado mentioned the involvement of the Vice President in alleged anomalies, the committee should consider inviting him to the hearing. The committee has no decision yet on this matter.
Open invitation to VP
Cayetano also aired a similar suggestion, saying the Vice President should be given an open invitation to attend the next hearing. He said Binay would be given all the courtesy and all the time to respond to allegations.
Makati Rep. Abigail Binay, the Vice President’s daughter, pointed out that Mercado’s statement on her father supposedly benefiting from the parking building was not based on fact, only on Mercado’s assumption.
The lawmaker said Trillanes’ question on whether the witnesses at the Senate hearing were receiving threats was “leading,” adding that they do not have a monopoly of death threats. The Binays also have had their share of threats, she said.
Binays not killers
Sen. Nancy Binay, Abigail’s sister, said members of her family were not killers. She said the threats may be coming from somewhere else, since she had heard talk that Mercado was into gambling.
As for suggestions to invite her father to the Senate, Representative Binay said Trillanes was just trying to bait her father into appearing before the hearing because of political ambition.
She pointed out that Trillanes was planning to run for higher office, which was why he was attacking her father who is leading in surveys on possible presidential candidates in 2016.
The Vice President is unlikely to attend the hearing, she added. The younger Binay attended the hearing and was seated in the gallery. She came to the Senate in an attempt to discuss with Cayetano his allegations against her, but the meeting did not push through.
As for the P2.3-billion parking building, Mercado said the plans presented to him by the former city engineer showed that the parking building was supposed to cost P1.2 billion.
COA chief’s question
Commission on Audit Chair Grace Pulido-Tan also said one question the agency was trying to answer was why another P1 billion was appropriated for the parking building when, after phase 3 of its construction, it was found to be “habitable and ready for use.”
But after this, phases 4 and 5 were added and more than P1 billion was appropriated for these.
Makati officials, including its mayor, had justified the P2.3-billion cost by saying it was a green building, a world-class building, and had to have a strong foundation because it was located on soft ground as it was near the river.
Assistant City Engineer Line de la Peña contended that it could not be compared with other buildings and that the Davis, Langdon and Seah (DLS) handbook could not be used as basis for the proper cost of the parking building because the actual cost of a building would depend on the design, the procurement methods and other factors.
The construction handbook, which states the average price per square meter of a building depending on the type, also assumes that the buildings have no basement and are built on flat ground, De la Peña said.
She said the total cost of the car park building was P67,000 per square meter.
But Cayetano said Makati should have consulted the handbook, which provided estimates that were only a third of the cost of the parking building.
City officials should also have compared the cost of the parking building with other similar structures, especially since it was spending people’s money for a project.
The DLS estimates vary from year to year. For 2012, the average price of a car park building was P17,000 to P22,000; for a standard office, P31,000 to 39,000; and for a high rise, P43,000 to P49,000.
Cayetano said if one was building a house, he would not automatically trust the contractor’s estimate and would compare it with others.
“That’s what upsets me. If you’re spending your money, you will check if the price is worth it, but if it’s government money, never mind,” he said.
Joya Loft, Grove
Cayetano also said the P2.3-billion parking building should have been compared with the cost of the Joya Loft and Grove buildings, which were also built near the Pasig River and Manggahan Floodway, respectively, and constructed by the same contractor, Hilmarcs Construction Corp.
“This is a condominium building. It’s first class. Don’t tell me that the car park building is better,” Cayetano said.
He showed cell phone pictures of the car park building with exposed ceilings. He noted that the building was dark and the automatic card dispenser was not working.
Hilmarc’s Construction president Roberto Henson explained the cost of the building by saying steel prices rose during the construction period.
He said the structural works had features comparable to condominiums, such as 100-percent power backup in case of a blackout.
Its exterior walls also did not use ordinary concrete, he said.
COA special audit
On the special audit of the Makati parking building, the COA chair said she was still in the process of putting together the team to handle it.
Tan said the COA was having difficulty getting outside experts to join the task because not many people want to get involved.
She said the team would need professionals with integrity.
She hopes to complete the team next week.
“We will do it with dispatch because the Ombudsman is waiting for the results of the audit,” she said.–With a report from Christine O. Avendaño
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