Leni ‘feels at home’ but ‘Bistek’ unhappy
VICE PRESIDENT-ELECT Leni Robredo “felt very much at home” the moment she stepped inside what used to be the controversial “Boracay Mansion” in Quezon City.
But even before she moves in at the former opulent residence at No. 100, 11th Street, in New Manila on June 30, it’s quietly causing a stir at City Hall.
Vice Mayor Joy Belmonte’s offer for Robredo to hold office at the property, now called the Quezon City Reception House, was made without the prior knowledge of Mayor Herbert Bautista, according to a city official close to the mayor.
The Reception House, originally called the Quezon City Executive House, was a pet project of the mayor and was intended to be the official residence of the local executive.
“It’s his baby,” the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told the Inquirer. “The mayor was unaware that the vice mayor offered the Executive House to Leni. He could no longer object because he would look like the villain.”
Bautista, a party mate of Robredo and Belmonte, was unavailable for comment on Friday. He did not respond to text messages and calls by the Inquirer.
But, Belmonte said, the mayor was aware of it.
“We cannot do anything without the blessing and permission of the mayor. It’s really his pet project. The mayor loves this, he oversaw it himself. We really had to make sure that we got his blessing [to lease the property]. All those times he said it’s OK, it would be an honor for the city to host the OVP (Office of the Vice President),” Belmonte told the Inquirer on Friday.
Bautista would have to pack up his belongings from the Reception House before June 30 when Robredo’s team is supposed to move in.
“We’ll have to instruct the mayor to remove his personal belongings there. We have no choice. The Vice President is higher than the mayor,” City Administrator Aldrin Cuña said during a city council hearing on a resolution authorizing a lease contract between the city government and the OVP on Wednesday.
The 7,145-square-meter property once boasted of a mansion and a wave pool—a kind of swimming pool equipped with a machine that produces artificial waves.
It was said to be once the residence of then President Joseph Estrada’s mistress, one-time starlet Laarni Enriquez, with whom he has three children.
After it was foreclosed and demolished by the city government, a two-story Mediterranean-style building was constructed. The white sand pool had been covered with concrete and now serves as parking area.
Perhaps, the only remnant of its former splendor was the grand staircase incorporated in the new structure. Construction began in 2013.
It was Belmonte who offered this to the team of Robredo, who loathed the idea of holding office in the ostentatious Coconut Palace by Manila Bay.
“Ma’am Leni liked it. Since it’s custom-made for the city government and the seal of the city is a triangle and the seal of the Office of the Vice President is also a triangle, she felt very much at home,” Belmonte said.
“And the house is very presentable, very appropriate for somebody of her stature, but it’s very simple and not intimidating for those in the fringes of society whom she wants to serve,” she added.
Robredo and her team have thrice visited the Reception House. Robredo even brought along a feng shui expert who gave advice on the doorway positions and which crystals to put up to block bad energy, the vice mayor said.
The city council on Wednesday passed on first reading a resolution authorizing the mayor to enter into a contract with the OVP for the lease of the Executive House.
The resolution, filed by Councilor Julienne Alyson Rae Medalla on June 1, is expected to be approved on second and third reading on Monday, the last session day of outgoing councilors.
The rate for the lease could not be determined yet since the Reception House is only 80-percent complete, and has not been turned over by the contractor, Marigold Development Corp., to the city government, Cuña said.
Only after the turnover could the Commission on Audit (COA) appraise the property and prescribe a rate for the lease, he said.
“The basis for determination of the price of the lease contract shall be based on the appraised value of the property. The problem is the property cannot be appraised yet for its final value because the property is not yet complete and it is not yet accepted by the city as a completed project,” Cuña told the Inquirer.
“Until such time that the project is completed, and the COA appraises the property as to its value then that’s the time the COA will prescribe the appropriate rate of lease. Anything lower than the prescribed rate of the COA is considered disadvantageous to the government,” he added.
Because of the issues raised by Cuña during the city council hearing, the councilors sought Bautista’s opinion and the latter confirmed he was in favor of the contract.
During the period of amendments, a clause stating that the mayor “graciously offered the 7,145 sq m property” to the OVP was eventually deleted.
Otherwise, documentary requirements for the turnover, such as fire, sanitary and occupancy permits, have been completed, Belmonte said.
“The COA later told us we can be the one to decide the rate since it’s a government-to-government contract. The price is not an issue for the city government because we never intended to make money from it. We would’ve lent it for free, but it’s not allowed,” Belmonte said.
Boyet Dy, head of Robredo’s transition team, said they were willing to pay half of the rate for Coconut Palace, where outgoing Vice President Jejomar Binay held office, Belmonte said.
The price and other terms of the lease would be the subject of the mayor’s negotiation with the OVP, she said.
“I hope the term Boracay Mansion would be erased from people’s minds because it has a stigma of corruption and opulence. I don’t want VP Leni to be associated with something like that because it’s not her personality,” Belmonte said.
The property was forfeited in favor of the city government for nonpayment of real property taxes, according to Regina Samson, head of the Office of the Mayor’s Communications Coordination Center.
“The place became a problem because it was abandoned. There was an infestation of rats and mosquitoes, especially since there was a pool. The neighbors complained. We tried to trace the ownership. St. Peter Holdings seemed to be the owner but they did not present themselves when the place was being assessed,” Samson said in an interview.
The Executive House, which features Machuca tiles, also displays the portraits of previous city mayors.
The second floor has five rooms that were meant to be the living quarters of visiting dignitaries and other VIP guests of the city.
The ground floor hosted the Christmas party of the city department heads in 2015. Several meetings have been also conducted in its conference room.
On Monday, Bautista is set to hold a press conference in the Quezon City Reception House.
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.