News

New Senate building construction stopped over staggering P23-B cost, other issues 

By Jennifer T. Santos

PASAY CITY/TAGUIG CITY – The Senate leadership is set to review the construction of the new Senate building in Taguig City due to concerns over escalating costs from initial P8.9 billion to P23 billion and still counting.

Senate President Francis Escudero earlier suspended the building construction, which was originally set to be finished on September this year, but fears are that it may not even be finished by 2025 or 2026.

  “Hindi totoo na makakalipat tayo sa bagong gusali, lupa at building ng Setyembre. Hindi rin totoo na aabot tayo makalipat bago matapos ang taon,” he said.  

Kahit hanggang 2025, sa palagay ko ay hindi pa rin dahil marami pang bagay na kailangang ihanda at maraming bagay din na aming nakita at nagisnan na kailangan pang suriin at pag-aralan,” Escudero said.

Escudero expressed his shock and disbelief at the unexpectedly high projected costs needed to complete the new Senate building, noting that these expenses are particularly hard to accept given the economic crisis faced by most Filipinos.

“Nung nakita ko ito, medyo nagulantang ako at hindi ko inasahan na ganun kalaki aabutin ang gagastusin para sa ating magiging bagong tahanan,” Escudero said.

Escudero said the initial budget in 2017 for the construction of the New Senate building was P8.9 billion, but it ballooned to P23 billion.

Initially budgeted at P8.9 billion, Escudero revealed that the cost of the project has now ballooned to P13 billion, with an additional P10 billion required for completion, bringing the total to P23 billion.

“Para sa akin, medyo mabigat lunukin at kagulat-gulat naman talaga,” Escudero said.

Sa aking pananaw, masama ito sa panlasa ng karamihan, lalong masama sa panlasa ng nakararami nating mga kababayan, lalo na sa gitna ng krisis ng ekonomiya at sa kahirapan na nakikita ng marami sa ating kababayan,” he said.

He said he ordered the suspension in response to a report submitted by Senator Alan Peter Cayetano, who now chairs the Committee on Accounts, detailing issues such as budget increase, quality concerns, and management inefficiencies.

He said Cayetano’s report cited some project modifications that resulted in additional expenses amounting to P833 million, which is nearly 10 percent of the original contract price.

Cayetano also recommended to identify project issues and engaging a third-party construction management team for validation and cost reduction.

Escudero instructed Cayetano to review the project and address these concerns to ensure project quality and efficiency.

The construction of the New Senate building was initiated by the 17th Congress in 2017 under Senate President Vicente Sotto III after former Senator Panfilo Lacson, then-chair of the Committee on Accounts, called for the need to relocate to a new site for the Philippine Senate due to increasing space limitations and the need for enhanced facilities.

Cayetano’s report also pointed out procurement delays and missteps by the project manager, the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH), which have contributed to project slowdowns and cost overruns.

In light of these initial findings, Escudero ordered a deeper review of the project to address current issues, improve project management, and ensure the highest standards of quality and efficiency.

Escudero agreed with all of Cayetano’s recommendations, including identifying immediate and underlying problems in the project and compelling the DPWH to question, evaluate, and rectify issues that can still be corrected.

In his report, Cayetano explained that the DPWH’s actions will be decisive in determining whether the agency and the contractor, HillMarc’s Construction Corporation, will implement the remaining portion of the project, which has an approved budget of P10.33 billion but is yet to be awarded.

In a message to Senate reporters as reported by Rappler, Lacson said that while he agrees with the suspension decided by Escudero, he emphasized that not a single peso of the P10.3 billion was released to the DPWH since Senator Nancy Binay, who succeeded him as accounts chairman, had “objected to the DPWH’s requests for variation orders (VOs).”

“The DPWH is the implementing agency so it submits cost estimates and VOs. However, at the end of the day, it is the Senate that will accept or not the proposed additional budget allocations of the DPWH,” he said.

Lacson also defended the new completion cost of P23 billion because it “includes the cost of the fit-out accessories and technical components of the security system as well as the land acquisition which was valued at that time at P1.62 billion.”

In a statement , Binay said that it was made clear in 2019 that the initial P8.9 billion was only for “core and shell” of the building, which means that the furnishing and interior are “entirely separate.”

Binay also said that Escudero was made aware of project cost as early as 2019.

 Binay, assured that she is ready to provide all the information needed by the Senate leadership about the ongoing construction of the new Senate building.

Binay said: “I understand that the Senate President meant well in reviewing the budget for New Senate Building pero sana madaliin nila ang (but I hope they speed up the) review. We want to avoid any unnecessary expense brought by the delay,” she added, but made it clear that she agrees with Escudero “to look for ways to bring the costs down.”

Senatorr Cayetano emphasized that the budgetary concerns surrounding the new Senate building (NSB) are part of an ongoing factual and independent review and should not give rise to unwarranted speculation.

“The goal is to have the best functional and iconic Senate building that will be a symbol of our democratic process of the will of the Filipino people, at the best quality at the right cost,” Cayetano said.

This came after the recent order of Senate President Francis “Chiz” Escudero to suspend the construction work on the NSB in Taguig City, citing concerns over escalating costs and the need for a comprehensive review.

The decision to suspend construction came after a report from the Senate Committee on Accounts (CA), which Cayetano currently chairs, highlighted the rising costs of the NSB project, with projections indicating an additional P10 billion would be needed to complete the building.

Cayetano said a series of briefings with relevant stakeholders, including teams from former CA chairpersons Senator Nancy Binay and former Senator Panfilo “Ping” Lacson, were conducted to provide a “clear view” on the matter.

This resulted in an executive summary of the initial review and recommendations which were presented to Escudero. “Hindi po ito haka-haka, lahat po ito ay official. May mga reports at may documents,” Cayetano said.

“Maganda naman po ang start pero lahat po ng nakakita ng costs ay medyo nagulat,” he added.

Despite the concerns raised, Cayetano argued that the construction of the current phase of NSB should continue during the review process, and the third phase, which has not yet undergone procurement, may be delayed if necessary.

“Pwede naman po na tuloy ang construction habang nirereview namin. Wala pong conflict iyon. We’re just looking at the documentation, y’ung mga ‘why’ at ‘what,’ pero tuloy-tuloy po ‘yan para walang delay,” he said.

“Bilang chairperson ng Committee on Accounts na may mandate na sound fiscal management at y’ung pag-audit ng pondo na may kinalaman ang Senado, ito rin po ang isa sa mga unang sinabi ng ating Senate President — let’s review, let’s make sure that we do what is right,” he added.

Cayetano, however, urged the public not to speculate and gave assurance that his committee, along with a high-level coordination team, will independently continue their thorough review of the project.

“Let’s not speculate. Nagre-review lang po tayo. Hindi po pwede rito ang assumption at akala,” he said.

He ended his Facebook Live by emphasizing that the Senate must uphold its mandate with integrity, set a standard by leading with transparency, and commit to making morally right decisions.

“In fulfilling that mandate, kailangan we lead by example … Iba ang puwede, iba ang dapat,” he said.

“We have to have the ascendancy and the credibility. When we exercise oversight powers over other projects of the government, we have to start with ourselves,” he added.