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Drilon faces raps over alleged overpriced Iloilo convention center

(Updated 1:21 p.m.) Former Iloilo Provincial Administrator Manuel Mejorada Jr. has filed criminal charges against Senate President Franklin Drilon, Tourism Secretary Ramon Jimenez Jr., and Public Works Secretary Rogelio Singson in connection with the alleged overpricing in the construction of a convention center project in Iloilo.
Mejorada filed the charges before the Office of the Ombudsman on Wednesday.
In an interview with reporters before filing the charges, Mejorada said he filed charges against the respondents for plunder, malversation of public funds, dishonesty and grave misconduct, and violation of Sections 3(e) and 3(g) of Republic Act 3019 or the Anti-Graft and Practices Act.

Aside from the three, Mejorada also filed charges against the following:
  • Tourism Infrastructure and Enterprise Zone Authority (TIEZA) chief operating officer Mark Lapid,
  • DPWH undersecretaries Jaime Pacanan and Romeo Momo,
  • DPWH regional director Edilberto Tayao,
  • DPWH Bids and Awards Committee chairman Marilyn Celiz,
  • W.V. Coscoluella and Associates, represented by President William Coscolluela, and
  • Hilmarc's Construction Co., represented by its president, Engr. Efren Canlas.
Mejorada claimed the respondents conspired to rig the bidding of the controversial construction project.
"May dala po akong mga dokumento na magpapatunay na totoo po iyon, niluto ang bidding at binigay sa Hilmarc's Construction Co.," he said.
On the other hand, the W.V. Coscoluella and Associates, which designed the building, was also awarded a contract without a public building, he added.
P679-million project
Mejorada said the construction of the two-storey Iloilo Convention Center (ICC), which begun in 2013 and is expected to be finished in March 2015, was overpriced by P488 million.
"May news clippings ako na sa umpisa pa lang in April 2012, si Senate President [Drilon] mismo ang nagsabi na P300 million lang, magagawa na ang convention center, dahil P30,000 per square meter ang construction cost," he said, noting that the amount was an "industry standard."
"Pero nagulat ako na habang lumalakad ang panahon, umakyat po sa P450 million... Noong nag-unveiling noong November 2012, P450 million na. Pero sa P450 million sa sinabi, e tapos na, buo na [dapat] ang convention center," he stressed.
He added that the amount only covers the first phase or "skeletal structure" of the building.
"Nitong October 20 lang, may isinagawang panibagong bidding ang DPWH sa Iloilo para sa phase 2... P187 million naman para tapusin ang convention center," he explained.
"So kapag idagdag mo 'yung P492 million to the P187 million for the phase 2, aabot po sa P679 million, building palang po iyan," he added.
Mejorada said Drilon was earlier reported as saying the Senate President wanted to add P44 million for the landscaping around the building.
"Sa ngayon po, it's a big scandal dahil aabot siya sa halaga na P679 million, na ang labas diyan, P106,250 per square meter, which is way, way above compared to the P30,000 per square meter — na madalas na sinusunod sa construction industry," Mejorada said.
Construction of the ICC was partly financed by Drilon, who allocated P200 million of his Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) to the project in 2013, and another P100 million from the DAP.
Other sources of funds for the ICC's construction include the P200 million from the Tourism Infrastructure and Enterprise Zone Authority and another P200 million from the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH).
Mejorada added that compared to other surrounding buildings in the area, the ICC is overpriced.
"Mayroon po akong patunay diyan na ang Richmond Hotel building, just across the convention center in Iloilo, 12 stories iyon, 161 rooms, 'yung overall cost is P500 million lang... Ito pong convention center ay 2 stories lang..." he said.
‘Brains behind anomaly’
When asked why he decided to go with Drilon as the primary respondent in the case, Mejorda, the Senate President's former ally, said: "Dahil siya po ang nag-umpisa nito. Siya ang namuno, siya ang nag-conceive ng project noong April 2012, at siya rin po ang nagbigay ng initial fund na P200 million galing sa kanyang PDAF, at nadagdagan ng at least P100 million mula sa DAP. "
He added that Drilon, as a senator, should have not allowed the amount of the construction to go up.
"Bakit hindi man lang siya umangal na lumalaki na ang budget natin dito? Hindi po ba dapat ang mga leader natin ay maghahanap ng paraan para ma-reduce o mabawasan ang expenses of any infrastructure..." he said.
Mejorda, a former member of the Liberal Party, said he discovered his former friend's "corrupt ways" when he was doing an exposé on an agriculture property in Iloilo City, of which the purchase was overpriced, when he was a journalist in 2011.
"I alerted him dahil ang pera na ito ay galing sa kanyang pork barrel," he said. "At the time, ang akala ko, wala siyang kinalaman doon, pero magagalit man siya, doon dapat sa city officials. This was July 11, 2011."
"That was our last exchange of emails... At the time kasi, lagi kami nagte-text, tumatawag siya — iyon pala, kaalyado niya ang mga local official na involved, nagalit siya kasi pinapakealaman ko," he added.
Further, Mejorada said Drilon may have used the construction of infrastructures for his own benefit.
"Kung mapansin niyo po, ang standard reply ni Senate President Drilon, 'Wala akong ni-isang sentimo na binigay sa NGO ni Napoles.' Talaga pong wala, 'yung totoo po, itong mga infrastructure ang ginagawa niyang conduit para sa korapsyon," he said. "It is his version of the pork barrel scam, infracture 'yung kanya."
Meanwhile, Majorda denied that the filing of charges against Drilon has anything to do with "sama ng loob."
He, however, admitted that Drilon once promised him a government seat, but somehow did not push through.
Investigation on the ICC
Earlier, Kabataan party-list Rep. Terry Ridon said the ICC was overpriced.

Ridon said the ICC even upstaged the world-renowned Beijing National Stadium, more popularly known as the Bird’s Nest, in terms of building price, at P109,375 per square meter compared to the Olympic Games venue's P79,216.
Senator Miriam Defensor Santiago sought an investigation into the alleged anomalous involvement of Hilmarc’s Construction Corporation in building the ICC.
Hilmarc’s is the same contractor of the allegedly overpriced Makati City Hall Building II, which is currently under investigation by the Senate blue ribbon committee. Vice President Jejomar Binay, his son Makati Mayor Junjun Binay and several other Makati officials are facing plunder and graft charges over the issue.  — KG/RSJ, GMA News