‘Lavish’ City Hall plan jettisoned?

A beleaguered Jed Patrick Mabilog has promised to scrap a P294-million expenditure plan for the completion of the new Iloilo City Hall to squeeze his way out of the “quicksand” of issues concerning overpricing and lavish spending for the project that put his one-year old administration in grave jeopardy of heading into political oblivion.

This was revealed Sunday by newspaper publisher Rommel S. Ynion following a one-on-one meeting with the local chief executive at a posh Makati hotel a few days ago as two Iloilo-based architects and a civil engineer insisted the City Hall project needs only P450 million at the most to be fully furnished and made ready for occupancy.

Speaking on the Sunday cable television and radio public affairs program “Reklamo Publiko”, Ynion said he obtained an assurance from Mabilog that the city government will steer clear of any excessive spending to get the project completed and will in fact no longer avail of a P260-million loan approved by the Land Bank of the Philippines.

Ynion has been at the forefront of a media campaign to expose alleged irregularities in the project, particularly what he considered as the “unconscionable” budget of P710 million that the Mabilog administration had wanted to spend to get it finished and operational.

In the same interview, Iloilo-based architects Melvin Lataquin and Ramon Teruel said the project can be completed, with all the equipment and furnishings put in, within the original budget of P450 million. They added that had the project undergone “value engineering”, the costings could have been scrutinized more carefully and brought down to P350 million.

This view was shared by Engineer Nilo Jardeleza, a well-known building contractor in Iloilo, who said that the industry standard for building construction is P15,000-35,000 per square meter. The latter figure is the standard for “high-end” buildings such as 5-star hotels, he said.

Lataquin said local architects possess the technical capability to undertake the design of mid-rise structures such as the new City Hall. “It’s not true that we lack the knowledge and expertise,” he said.

For his part, Lataquin pointed to the Four Season Hotel as an example of his work in designing mid-rise buildings. He has also taught architecture at the University of San Agustin (USA) for the last 30 years, he added.

“Most of the younger architects in Iloilo City had studied under me,” he said.

Teruel, on the other hand, said he did the architectural design for the Sarabia Manor Hotel and worked in Australia. There is no basis for underestimating the competence of local architects, he said.

Lataquin and Teruel said they didn’t take interest in the architectural design because then City Mayor Jerry P. Trenas told participants to a regional convention for architects that W. Coscolluela, which was picked to do the job, would be doing it for free.

“We were just surprised to find out that the firm is getting paid P12 million for the architectural design,” Lataquin said.

But the issue revolved around the alleged attempt by city officials to jack up prices to pave the way for corruption as alleged by Ynion.

“The reason the city government hired a Manila-based architect and consultant is to make it easier to pad prices,” he said.

“It is all about the S.O.P., which means ‘soyop’ (siphon) minus the ‘o’ and the ‘y’,” Ynion said.

Ynion said as a mediaman, he had a duty to expose the alleged irregularities that he was able to uncover.

“It’s not about politics,” Ynion said. “But if fighting corruption is politics, then we should be actively involved in politics,” he added.

With his meeting with Mabilog last Thursday, Ynion is hopeful the alleged plunder that he said was going to happen will be stopped. His only reservation is that Mabilog had told him it will be done “as much as possible,” he said.

Mabilog, however, has not yet made any announcement on whether he will indeed stick to a more frugal program of work for the completion of the project.

He has already scuttled a plan to buy a 3,063-sqm. property at the back of the City Hall site for P35 million.

About Manuel "Boy" Mejorada
Manuel "Boy" Mejorada is a journalist and social media activist. A former Iloilo provincial administrator, he is now waging a crusade against corruption and narco-politics.

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