The core issues in the Iloilo Convention Center controversy

The issue on the Iloilo Convention Center boils down to just a few major points:
1. Were there violations of the Government Procurement Reform Act, or RA 9184?
2. Is the contract reasonably priced?
3. Did the public officials involved conduct themselves in a transparent manner and demonstrated accountability?
On the first point:
Right from the start, RA 9184 was transgressed. The services of the architect were procured without undergoing through a competitive bidding process. This is now admitted by no less than DPWH Secretary Rogelio Singson who told Sandra Aguinaldo of GMA News that Megaworld “donated” the services of W. V. Coscolluela and Associates for the design of the building. Why and how that came to be was not explained. But the fact is that the Tourism Infrastructure and Enterprise Zone Authority (TIEZA) did advertise an Invitation to Bid for an architect for this project. This was later cancelled; Senate President Drilon had already picked Coscolluela as the architect.
The competitive public bidding for Phase I was rigged. The invitation to bid for the contract, for instance, did not conform to the requirement of the IRR for RA 9184 that it should provide a brief and concise description of the project. The protocols in the bidding were also ignored and violated. There was no “competition”. The rules of the game were tampered to favor Hilmarcs Construction Corp.
On the second point (reasonableness of the contract price):
When Senate President Drilon first announced he will push for the construction of a convention center, he said its cost will amount to P300 million. He pegged it at the “industry standard” of P30,000 per square meter for first class buildings like five-star hotels. Six months later, Drilon said the cost had gone up to P450 million without telling the people how it came to be. Then it rose to P700 million. During the Dinagyang 2014, he described it as a P1-billion project. Never did he explain why the cost kept going up and up and up. The building design never changed.
The building has a total floor area of 6,400 square meters. At P30,000 per square meter, that should run to only P192 million. Even at the original cost estimate of P300 million, the project was already overpriced. But Drilon kept inflating the cost figures as more DAP funds became available for him. I challenge him to explain how he reached the figure of P1 billion for the project.
Sec. Singson, in the same interview with Sandra Aguinaldo, admitted that indeed, the industry standard is P30,000 per square meter. He also acknowledged that the SMX in the Mall of Asia cost only P26,000 per square meter. But he argued that the pricing for government projects is different. We could not compare public contracts with private contracts, he said. He did not care to elaborate. Does he mean government contracts have to factor in the kickbacks?
On the third point:
There is a total lack of transparency and accountability. Not once did we hear Drilon or Singson explain why the cost went up from P300 million to P450 million to P700 million and, (luckily we exposed it before it could take off), P1 billion. It took me nearly 10 months before I could get my hands on official records of the project from DPWH (not to mention that I had to pay P5 per page for these documents). When there is no transparency, then you can bet there is hanky-panky business going on. And true enough, I discovered that my hunch was correct.

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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