COA asks industry experts to help in special audit of Makati building; Nancy slams Senate probe

Experts in the construction industry are being contacted by the Commission on Audit (COA) to assist its audit examiners in conducting a special audit of the parking building constructed in 2007 by the Makati City government.

Interviewed in a television morning show yesterday, COA Chairperson Grace Pulido Tan disclose that her office has already contacted experts to help the audit agency determine whether or not the city government paid more than what the 11-story Makati City building actually costs.

The alleged overpricing of the construction of the building is now the subject of a Senate Blue Ribbon Committee probe.  A plunder case has also been filed against Vice President Jejomar Binay and his son, incumbent Mayor Junjun Binay, on the same issue.

Although the disbursements have already passed regular audit, Pulido-Tan said COA has decided to take a second look through a special audit after accusers of the former and incumbent Makati mayors claimed that the city government paid for more than double the real cost of the building at P2.3 billion.

Pulido-Tan said a special audit is conducted if there are suspicions of irregularities due to observations that “normal and logical processes” in pursuing them have not been followed. She said the holding of the bidding for the construction contract was also suspiciously fast and completed in just two months. Had the Makati City government followed the provisions of the procurement law, she said, it would have taken local officials at least 130 days to conduct the bidding and award the contract.

NANCY SLAMS SENATE PROBE

Meanwhile, Sen. Ma. Lourdes “Nancy” Binay said the ongoing investigation of the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee on the Makati City Hall Building II “isn’t a search for truth, but a search for free publicity.”

“This is about media mileage for people who have intentions for 2016,” Binay said in an interview after the committee hearing last Thursday.

Even after being dragged into the controversy, Binay said she is not inclined to appear at the hearing to defend herself and her family from the accusations hurled by their staunchest critics, namely Senators Antonio Trillanes IV and Senate Majority Leader Alan Peter Cayetano.

During the resumption of the Senate probe, a former Makati government official handling the city’s Bids and Awards Committee (BAC) said that bidding for the edifice and other city projects were rigged to favor Hilmarc’s Construction Corp. Mario Hechanova, who also headed Makati City Hall’s General Services Department, told the Senate investigators that this was upon the instructions given by the Vice President who was then the city mayor.

But Sen. Binay said she wouldn’t accept Hechanova’s story considering he admitted during the hearing the reason he resigned from Makati City hall. “The mere fact that he already admitted that he resigned because my father allegedly did not keep his promise to let (former Vice Mayor Ernesto) Mercado run showed that his loyalty was not to the Vice President,” Binay explained.

“Just think, why would you resign from a job you had for 19 years, your source of income, to feed your family? Why resign just because of Mercado? That’s weird,” she said. “And then you will tell in the hearing that you’re not close.”

Binay also reiterated she has never supplied cakes for the city government’s free birthday cake program for senior citizens.

STRUCTURAL INTEGRITY ASSURED

The builder of the P2.2-billion 11-story car park-office building in Makati city vouched yesterday for the structural integrity of the structure and asked that it be insulated from its political fallout.

HCC, according to Rogelio Peig, HCC assistant vice president for legal affairs, is ready to defend the Makati park building from its foundation to each floor of the building.

The builder, Hilmarc’s Construction Corporation (HCC), stressed that the alleged overpriced building ‘’was done in accordance with the highest standards of quality, apart from additional furnitures and interior design it contributed.”

Through lawyer Peig, HCC maintained that it is innocent of the accusations being slapped against it “since its track record cannot be questioned.’’ HCC, according to Peig, has a 37-year experience in the construction business and is one of the top 10 construction companies in the country since 1977.

Peig insisted that the corporation has never tolerated the giving of graft money to anyone when they win construction contracts. “As far as how the building was constructed from the foundation to its every floor, the HCC can guarantee that it is based on specifications approved by the client. Otherwise, we will not be paid based on the agreed contract price,” Peig said.

HECHANOVA TESTIMONY

Hechanova also claimed that former city engineer Nelson Morales, who was ambushed in the Bicol region in September, 2012, had given him P200,000 as monthly allowance to fix contracts assigned to him. The money supposedly came from then Mayor Jejomar Binay.

Former Makati Vice Mayor Ernesto Mercado, a  former close friend of Vice President Binay, had admitted having accepted graft money from the building contract and that Binay was very likely to have also benefitted from the same contract because it was the norm (kalakaran). Mercado also testified that Morales had told him that the actual cost of the Makati car park building was P1.2 billion.

Peig maintained that there is a big difference between the government and private sector when it comes to construction. “In government contracts, the policy is ‘all in bid’ where the contractor shoulders 100 percent of the cost of labor, materials, taxes, contingencies, insurance, and other related expenses,’’ he explained.

Among the projects undertaken by HCC, Peig said, are the SM Mall of Asia, Philippine Arena, GNA  Network, Iloilo Convention Center and a number of  condominiums, among others.

OTHER PROJECTS

Meanwhile, Kabataan Party-list Rep. Terry Ridon said the contractor for the controversial parking building has a record of involvement in controversial deals with the government.

Hilmarc’s Construction Corporation had also figured in the multimillion Business Process Outsourcing Incubation Contact Center (BPO-ICC) project of the Commission on Higher Education (CHED) that the Commission on Audit (COA) halted back in 2009, Ridon said.

He said COA audit reports have revealed that Hilmarc’s Construction was part of the e-SGS consortium, which clinched the contract for the P500-million call center project in a highly controversial bidding procedure back in 2007. Other members of the e-SGS consortium were E-Services Global Solutions, Inc. (ESGS); Drishti Philippines, Inc. (DPI), and Information Transmission Computer Control, Inc. (ITCC), he said.

The BPO-ICC, better known as CHED’s call center project, involved building facilities and procuring technologies to set up incubation hubs in six state schools, including the Polytechnic University of the Philippines (PUP), the Technological University of the Philippines (TUP), the Laguna State Polytechnic College (LSPC), the Tarlac State University (TSU), the Pangasinan State University (PSU), and the Don Mariano Marcos Memorial State University (DMMMSU).

In 2007, an internal report of CHED revealed that the contract with eSGS did not undergo proper bidding procedures, and the civil works component of the project was overpriced.