The City Hall plot thickens

After being absent from the active media community for more than a decade, I felt a little unsure about pursuing the story on the controversial City Hall project as an investigative project for The News Today. But there were telltale signs all over the place that shouted “anomalous”, and the journalist in my blood made it hard to resist this assignment for the sake of uncovering the truth. That after all, is what journalism is all about — digging for the facts to tell the truth.

At first, I had to start slow, knowing that my prolonged absence due to my stint as Provincial Administrator caused some rust to develop. But a network of contacts I had built from way back when I was a radio anchorman of DYOK 720 (now better known as Aksyon Radyo Iloilo) and editor-in-chief of The Daily Times was intact. In journalism, sources are your most valuable assets, and it pays to have reliable sources almost everywhere.

My Capitol experience helped tremendously, because it provided a deep understanding of how things work in a local government, particularly in the Bids and Awards Committee. A good investigator steps off with leads. Without a lead, an investigator can walk in circles and not find anything. In this case, the leads were like red flags; it didn’t take me long to pursue the story with relative ease despite the maze which engulfed the whole project. And it helped to have Google do the searching for me.

By Thursday, I had struck a gold mine. I found the document that is the key to the anomalies that have rocked the entire project. When the City Hall project broke ground in February 2010, everybody basked in optimism and enthusiasm that at long last, a first-class city like Iloilo City will finally build a home that will be its pride and the seat from which it could deliver vital services to constituents.

It was a project that had taken long in coming. There were a number of false starts, and even after the city had obtained a loan from Land Bank of the Philippines, the project still get off the ground. Ultimately, the project cost was pegged at P455 million, and everybody was filled with anticipation when the public bidding was finally held, and the contract awarded to F.F. Cruz and Co. Inc/Freyssinet Filipinas Joint Venture. The price tag for the project had gone down to P368 million, which was the bid submitted by FFCCI/FF JV.

Great — that’s how almost everybody reacted at learning that the bid price was P87 million lower than the approved agency estimate. Even Rep. Jerry P. Trenas, who was still the incumbent City Mayor at the time of the bidding, beamed with pride that the city government enjoyed a “savings” of P87 million! Indeed, nobody could argue with a “bagsak-presyo” in the contract price. That’s almost 20% of the AAE, and represents a more than substantial drop in the budgeted cost of the City Hall.

Unfortunately, that bubble of a boast is about to burst. And Trenas will have to explain why his administration carved out almost all the innards of a functional building (1 of 2 elevators, water pump system, generator set, transformer, electrical wiring and data cabling, air-conditioning equipment, among others) just before the participating bidders dropped their proposals. The scopes of work that were stripped away are what the building lacks to become fully operational and ready for occupancy once finished.

I’m sorry to say this, but Trenas misled his constituents when he exclaimed, “we even have a big savings” on the project. He knew that a substantial portion of the project cost had been removed. And yet he made it appear the winning bidder made a dive on the price to the advantage of Iloilo City. That deceit is now causing more problems for the City Hall project; his successor, Mayor Jed Patrick Mabilog, is now stuck with even more controversies after he tried to pad the cost estimates.

Sadly, nobody seems able to provide satisfactory answers to questions about the project. I guess this will have to be the job of the Office of the Ombudsman, with assistance from the Commission on Audit. They will have to scrutinize the bid documents for the original contract and determine the costing for the deleted scopes of work. This will then have to be checked with the bill of quantities for the original contract. What is it that is being constructed now? What are the scopes of work? What is the cost for each scope of work? These are nasty questions, but they have to be propounded to shed light on the entire scandal.

It is apparent some quarters wanted to make lots of money from the project from the way it was mutilated. The constituents of Iloilo City were cheated and defrauded. I feel sad because Mabilog and Trenas are friends. More than that, we are political allies. There is glaring evidence of wrongdoing, however, and I will be reneging on my obligation as a journalist if I just closed my eyes.

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.

One Response to The City Hall plot thickens

  1. Mike Sayat says:

    Can the Engineering Consultant and the Iloilo City Engineer’s office ,please clarify the questions raised behind the bidding of this project.


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