The ICC revisited: Drilon’s monument of corruption and plunder


It’s been more than 14 months since the private company that won the bid for the lease, operation and management of the Iloilo Convention Center in Mandurriao, Iloilo City began its operations in running the business. But the project is not yet finished, making it hard to fully utilize the facility as a convention center and generate enough profits for the operator.Front view

For one thing, the “fits-out” for the sliding walls that can turn the main hall into three smaller venue rooms has not been installed. Secondly, the parking lot in the back of the ICC wasn’t cemented; the surface is gravel, making it an ugly appurtenance to other otherwise impressive structure. Third, there is no sound-proofing for enhanced audio quality.

 

 

With more than P750 million already spent for the project, the ICC is just an overdecorated box of a building, unworthy to be called a convention center that its sponsor, Senator Franklin Drilon, had described as “world class”. As a result, the ICC is hardly drawing the conventions, and tens of thousands of visitors as projected by Drilon, to Iloilo City.

That the ICC was overpriced becomes more pronounced because it sits between two five-star hotels in the Iloilo Business Park: The 12-story Richmonde Hotel cost P500 million to build, complete with all the furnishings and The Courtyard by Marriot, with 15 floors of upscale hotel accommodations that cost P1.5 billion. The ICC is only two floors, with 99% empty space. The sum of P750 million wasn’t enough to finish the facility.

Worse, the ICC was leased to Premier Islands Management Corp. on March 11, 2016 for a total of P74,054,267 over a twenty-five (25) year period, or roughly P2,962,170.68 per year. Computed on a monthly basis, the rental paid by the operator is only P246,847.55. In the Senate Blue Ribbon investigation into the ICC on November 13, 2014, then DPWH Secretary Rogelio Singson said the total floor area of the ICC was 11,693.79 square meters. That makes the rental rate a dirt-cheap P21.10 per square meter a month!

How could the Tourism Infrastructure and Enterprise Zone Authority (TIEZA) least the ICC for so cheap a price?

According to TIEZA Assistant Chief Operating Officer (ACOO) Jetro Lozada, the agency was forced to review the cost paramaters of the ICC for purposes of establishing a feasible rental rate. Lozada admitted that TIEZA at first pegged the project valuation at the actual cost of P750 million, but several biddings resulted in failure. The minimum lease rental rate at that valuation put the ICC out of the ballpark in terms of feasibility among potential operators.

Then DOT Secretary Ramon Jimenez had a “eureka” idea to salvage the ICC’s marketability to lease and management operators: During a TIEZA board meeting on January 15, 2015, Jimenez said that his partner at the DPWH, Sec. Singson, had manifested that the agency was no longer interested in recovering its expenditures for the project. That’s a whooping P320 million that Singson, unilaterally, just wrote off without legal basis. That money came from the Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP) through the auspices of Drilon.

These circumstances are evidence that the Filipino taxpayers were defrauded not just once, but twice. The ICC was originally estimated to cost only P200 million. But Drilon succeeded in pumping air into the project cost until it would have reached P1 billion.  DPWH ultimately scrapped one or two more biddings for other components when it became hard-put to justify additional expenditures. This explains why the project is not 100% finished.

Indeed, DPWH could not justify more expenditures. In the Blue Ribbon hearing, Singson said DPWH was scrimping to be able to finish the project at below P750 million. He gave the figure of P747 million as the final project cost, 100% finished. But the cost had already become a run-away train, and TIEZA was forced to inaugurate the project in September 2015 in time for the APEC Ministerial Meeting.

These days, the ICC stands idly most of the time, empty. Events and conventions are far between, and the operator could only try to survive on the meager income it generates. Without the “fits-out” or the sliding divider and other missing components, the operator could not hope to book bigger conventions simultaneously in which the main hall could be turned into three separate venues.

And with no ceilings, no acoustics panels on the walls, the ICC is nothing more than an expensive warehouse. a concrete box that is already regarded as a monument of corruption.

 

 

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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