Escudero finds P23-B budget for new Senate building 'OA,' wants review

Escudero finds P23-B budget for new Senate building 'OA,' wants review Senate President Francis Escudero on May 23, 2024. Bibo Nueva España/ Senate PRIB/ File photo

Senate President Francis "Chiz" Escudero is seeking a review on the supposed increase in the budget for the new Senate building at Fort Bonifacio, Taguig City.

Escudero announced this during the flag ceremony on Monday, saying that he has ordered Senator Alan Peter Cayetano, the chairman of the Senate Committee on Accounts, to "set aside any expenditure or construction until they review and study" the cost of the new building.

"Una, hindi totoo na makakalipat tayo sa bagong gusali, lupa’t at building ng Setyembre. Hindi rin totoo na aabot tayong makalipat bago matapos ang taon. Kahit hanggang 2025 sa palagay ko’y hindi pa rin dahil marami pang bagay na kailangan ihanda at maraming bagay rin na aming nakita at nagisnan na kailangan pang suriin at pag-aralan," Escudero said in his speech.

(First, it is not true that we can transfer to the new building by September, even in 2025 because I think there are a lot of things that we need to prepare for and there are a lot of issues that we should assess and study.)

In an ambush interview on Monday, Escudero shared that he was surprised with the P23-billion allocation for the construction of Senate's new home, which he noted was only bidded out for P8.9 billion.

"Nao-OA-an lang ako, nakakagulat at masama sa panlasa na gagastos nang ganito kalaki ang Senado para sa aming magiging bagong tahanan at opisina... Nais kong tingnan muna at suriin muna ito nang husto kung talaga bang nararapat, angkop at kung papaano ito mapababa dahil tiyak ko hindi rin maganda sa panlasa ito ng marami sa ating mga kababayan," Escudero said.

(I find it OA, that the Senate will spend this much for its new home. I want to look at it first and see if the amount is justified or if it can be decreased because I don't think our countrymen will agree to the budget.)

He clarified, however, that this is just a review by the Committee on Accounts and not an investigation, emphasizing that he is not accusing anyone.

"'Yung naunang inaprubahang budget ay P8.9 [billion]. 'Di namin alam kung bakit ito lumobo, nung una P13 [billion] at ngayon nga P23 [billion]," he noted.

(The first approved budget was P8.9 billion. We don't know why it increased to P13 billion and now P23 billion.)

"Wala akong nakitang irregularity. Nagulantang lamang ako sa halaga. Di ba kagula-gulantang ang P13 bilyon? Edi mas nakakagulantang ang P23 [billion] para sa isang opisina lamang," he said, noting that the allocation might be of the same amount with the "luxurious" buildings in Makati or Bonifacio Global city.

(I don't see any irregularity. I was just surprised by the amount. If P13 billion is surprising, what more P23 billion just for an office.)

According to the Senate president, they are still finding out if the supposed P10-billion additional funding for the new Senate building was already approved or it is still being requested.

He shared that the Senate has already paid P10 billion to the contractor and a "slow down order" is being implemented because some of the features of the building were not constructed as planned and these are yet to be rectified.

With this review, Escudero said the Senate's transfer to Taguig City might be delayed for a few months.

In a statement, Escudero said he arrived at the decision after receiving a detailed report and recommendations from Alan Cayetano last Friday on the "escalating costs, quality issues, and management inefficiencies" surrounding the New Senate Building project.

"The preliminary review conducted by the committee revealed numerous variations, deviations, and modifications to the project that have not been properly validated. These changes have resulted in additional expenses amounting to P833 million, which is nearly 10 percent of the original contract price," the statement read.

According to Escudero, the inspections by the Senate Coordination team have also raised questions about the "quality of workmanship and adherence to the original terms of reference."

The report also pointed out 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, he added.

With these, Escudero said he agreed with Cayetano's recommendations, including identifying immediate and underlying problems in the project and compelling the DPWH to question, evaluate, and rectify issues that can still be corrected.

According to the same statement, Cayetano has explained in his report that the DPWH’s actions will be decisive in determining whether the agency and the contractor, HillMarc’s Construction Corporation, will implement the remaining portion of the project, which has an approved budget of P10.33 billion but is yet to be awarded.

Cayetano has suggested compelling the DPWH to create a high-level liaison team for the project, which is composed of DPWH’s Unified Project Management Office as the project manager and the Bureau of Design for proper coordination.

Cayetano also advised engaging a third-party construction management team to help clarify and validate the project to date, both technically and financially, according to Escudero's statement.

This will aid in a value engineering exercise intended to reduce the cost of the building, considering the high projected cost, subsequent delays, and the desire to turn over a building that conforms to the original design intent, the Senate president, quoting Cayetano, said in his press release.

GMA News Online sought the comment of former Senate President Juan Miguel Zubiri and Senator Nancy Binay, former chairperson of the Senate Committee on Accounts, on Escudero's remarks, but they have yet to respond as of posting time.

Escudero likewise disclosed that he discussed this matter with former Senate President Vicente "Tito" Sotto III and former Senator Panfilo Lacson "in passing" during arecent lunch meeting.

The new Senate building project was initiated under Sotto's term. Lacson was then the chairman of the Senate accounts committee.

In a text message to reporters, Lacson explained that the DPWH, as the implementing agency, submits the cost estimates and the variation orders (VO). However, it is up to the Senate if it will accept or not the proposed additional budget allocations of the DPWH.

"What I understand, based on my own inquiry with my former staff/team of consultants who eventually joined Sen. Nancy who succeeded me as the Senate Accounts Committee Chairperson under Sen. Zubiri - not a single peso of the P10.3B additional funds, while already part of the 2024 GAA and covered by MYCA (Multi Year Contractual Authority) has been awarded since Sen. Nancy and her team have consistently objected to the DPWH’s requests for VO’s," Lacson said.

He also said the "new" total cost of P23.3 billion includes the expenses for land acquisition, which was valued during their time at P1.62 billion at P90,000 per square meter.

The land value, he said, "has since tremendously appreciated in value."

While he is not certain of the exact amount, Lacson said the current real estate value in that same area is P500,000 per square meter.

No irregularity

The DPWH, for its part, denied the construction costs would balloon to around P23 billion, adding there were no irregularities in the establishment of the new Senate building.

"So all-in-all, ang malinaw nang may pondo diyan, is only Phase 1 and Phase 2 which is P11.10 billion, And the P5.7 billion is still under review ng Senate Committee Team with DPWH for the completion,” DPWH Undersecretary Emil Sadain told Ian Cruz’s “24 Oras” report.

(The budget was clear, Phase 1 and Phase 2 cost P11.10 billion. The P5.7 billion is still under review of the Senate Committee Team with DPWH.)

“So, if you include the P5.7-B to the P11.10-B, that's only P16.8-B. So, there's no such thing as P23-B,” he said. —KBK, GMA Integrated News

This article Escudero finds P23-B budget for new Senate building 'OA,' wants review was originally published in GMA News Online.

  • https://www.msn.com/en-ph/news/national/escudero-finds-p23-b-budget-for-new-senate-building-oa-wants-review/ar-BB1nVLIL?ocid=00000000

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