A heap of lies and deceit (Part I)


Coffeebreak

 

There is almost no doubt left in my mind that the construction of the new Iloilo City Hall project is an elaborate scheme to steal more than P300 million in public funds, and the architects are individuals our citizenry, the Ilonggos, had voted into office on the belief that they will bring about corruption-free governance to catapult our great city to economic prosperity.

And this sense of certainty is reinforced by the emergence during the weekend of a black propaganda machinery on Facebook and WordPress to discredit me and The News Today publisher Rommel S. Ynion before the local community. Instead of answering questions, the perpetrators of this plunder are throwing filth at us.

It’s not the first time I’ve encountered this kind of diversionary tactic, and rather than engage them in a tit-for-tat exchange of insults and lies, I have resolved to strengthen my sense of purpose in uncovering the entire truth. I know the path is filled with obstacles and booby-traps. This will not discourage me.

Personally, I was deeply anguished in choosing whether to stick to friendships or pursuing my journalistic ideals of exposing the truth, no matter who gets hurt. These are individuals I have known for a long time, and I feel bad that I had to be the one to discover the evidence of apparent wrongdoing in this project. Duty, however, must rise over friendships. That is a hard decision I had to make.

We have to look at this issue as objectively as possible.

What we have on the coroner’s table is a cadaver that is a half-finished New Iloilo City Hall that will cost the Ilonggo taxpayer a hefty P368 million. Its internal organs (electrical works, sanitary and plumbing works, data cabling, fire protection systems, pumps, generator, transformers, elevator, among others) are missing, which is the reason for its premature demise.

The original contract price translates to a construction cost of P26,000 per square meter.  By industry standards, I’ve been told a building can be constructed in a price range of P12,000-25,000 per square meter, depending on the kind of design and quality. What this means that at a high end of P25,000 per square meter, a contractor can deliver a finished building, complete with the basic facilities and amenities, and ready for occupancy.

This is where the problem starts. The cost of P26,000 per square meter encompasses only the shell structure. The building is stripped bare of electrical wires, plumbing and sanitary systems, data cabling, car ramp system, power generator and transformer. Instead of two elevators as specified in the approved plans, it has only one elevator. And the cafeteria on the roof deck is not included.

In other words, the City of Iloilo is being short-changed. We are paying for the cost of a finished building, but we will be getting only a half-finished shell. It is a building with no lights, water, communications, parking and emergency power facilities. It is a robbery in broad daylight, and it is being perpetrated by our own city officials, including the previous local chief executive.

How this happened is detailed in the in-depth reportage that The News Today has published these past several days. Right from the start, it appears that the City Hall project was a sacrificial lamb to be offered at the altar of corruption. And there was an effort to smokescreen the anomaly by making it look like we had the better end of the deal.

The lies began to fly soon after the original contract was awarded to the F.F. Cruz and Co. Inc./Freyssinet Filipinas Joint Venture, which submitted the lowest offer of P368 million.  On the surface, it really looked like we had a good bargain. What was estimated to cost P455 million was going to be built for only P368 million, or P87 million less. Then City Mayor, and now Congressman, Jerry P. Trenas gushed with pride: “we have a savings of P87 million!”

Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case. It was only made to look that way. But what the public didn’t know was that shortly before the public bidding, the Bids and Awards Committee (BAC) issued Bid Bulletin No. 1 amending the plans and specifications for the project, and in the process deleting major scopes of work that virtually mutilated the project. For reasons only he knows at this time, Trenas didn’t want a finished building.

This changes the perspective on the project dramatically. A diabolical motive emerges. The exclusion and/or deletion of the major scopes of work that could have finished the building and make it ready for occupancy was supposed to be a master-stroke to allow corruption to flourish from the transaction. Trenas can’t possibly escape culpability on this anomaly.

The Commission on Audit (COA) must now scrutinize the scopes of work for the original contract with an eye to uncovering evidence of overpricing or cost-padding. No engineer or architect in his/her right mind can justify a construction cost of P26,000 per square meter just for the shell structure. It is empty and bare. It is a skeleton wrapped in concrete, with vital organs to make it serve its purpose.

(To be continued)

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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