Questions for COA (Part 1)


It’s hard to get information from the Commission on Audit. Almost everything that it handles is shrouded in a veil of secrecy. But it doesn’t mean we will just resign to this sense of helplessness. We have to bring the case to the general public. If it doesn’t fulfill its constitutional mandate, then we could demand accountability through media. We need to keep the people informed.

With this in mind, I will list several questions for COA pertaining to the scandalous Iloilo City Hall project. The contractor has cleared the temporary fence in front of the project to get it ready for the formal turn-over to the city government. Now the facade of the building is fully visible to passers-by, and constituents can get a close-up look at what could be the most expensive City Hall in the country.

Let me mention that City Mayor Jed Patrick E. Mabilog must really be pissed off that the project wasn’t ready for inauguration last weekend. I know he had wanted to show off the building and deodorize the stink by inviting President Benigno Simeon Aquino III and U.S. Ambassador Harry Thomas. It’s a good thing they avoided legitimizing the anomalies by gracing the inauguration.

First, I would like to ask COA what it has done about the anomalous major revision of the project’s building plans and specifications about two weeks before the dropping of bids. When a project is advertised for bidding, its specifications are as complete as possible, with the approved budget for the contract (ABC) indicated. In this case, the original solicitation of bids called for a complete building, ready for occupancy, with all the amenities included. The estimated cost was P455 million.

Republic Act No. 9184 allows the agency undertaking the project to issue bid bulletins for “modifications” to clarify ambiguities or supply more detail to the plans to help the contractors make a responsive bid offer. There is no room for misunderstanding here. “Modification” means minor changes in the specifications, or tightening up the specs to avoid any miscalculation. It doesn’t change the essence of the project. It was supposed to be a complete building, RFO (acronym for ready for occupancy).

But the administration of then City Mayor Jerry P. Trenas introduced a gigantic anomaly when it revised the plans and specifications. It removed major components of the projects and left only the structural shell. In an instant, the project was changed from a complete City Hall to just its skeletal structure with outer walls. No elevators. No electrical and data wiring. No firefighting system. No elevated parking. No partitions and furniture. No airconditioning. And more.

By simply issuing a bid bulletin under the guise of a “modification”, the Trenas administration carved out nearly one-half of the original project. There was no justification. And it was done in treachery. Nobody outside the mayor’s office knew that the city government was putting up a half-finished City Hall.

Normally, such drastic changes in the project specifications, in which major parts or components are removed from the scopes of work, would require a reduction of the estimated costs. That’s only logical, because the removal of major scopes of work meant less costs for materials, labor and overhead.

Here lies the first big anomaly — the Trenas administration kept the ABC at P455 million. In effect, it was going to pay an amount equal to the whole for just half of the project. It is a giant swindle pulled off by the local chief executive.

It wasn’t surprising that the winning bidder submitted an offer for P368 million. Trenas was jubilant in announcing the award of the contract to F. F. Cruz and Co./Freyssinet Filipinas joint venture. It represented a savings of P87 million, he boasted. Indeed, such a drop in the winning bid should be cause for rejoicing for an agency that wants to implement a project with economy.

It was a false boast, however. With the revision of the project specs, the real cost estimate for the project should have been 50% lower, or P270 million. At P368 million, the contractor was still going to reap an overprice of P98 million, a huge bonanza that is clearly bound to be divided among top officials of the city.

The Bids and Awards Committee, apparently acting upon orders of Trenas, distorted the meaning of the word “modification” and dismembered the building to pave the way for a huge windfall. It smacks of dishonesty, fraud and simple corruption! I feel like puking at the calm demeanor of Trenas in claiming to have saved P87 million!

Will the COA pretend not to have seen anything or heard anything about this? Will it cover-up the glaring irregularity which makes a mockery of the law? Sadly, its actions don’t seem to point to safeguarding the public interest. It doesn’t seem inclined to stop the irregularity based on this unlawful “modification”. That transaction took place two years ago yet.

This is a clear case of graft and corruption that will haul Trenas and other officials of the city government before the Sandiganbayan. It’s not really too late for COA to prove it’s made of tougher stuff. It can expose this anomaly and file charges before the Ombudsman.

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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