'Philippines-Makati building contracts rigged'

'Philippines-Makati building contracts rigged'
Makati Rigging Witness Sen. Alan Peter Cayetano, beside Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV, grills witnesses, including Mario Hechanova (at right), during a Senate hearing on the allegedly overpriced Makati City parking building.

MANILA - Philippines-Makati procurement officials trapped a rival of a favoured supplier in an elevator for 20 minutes to ensure that the competitor would be late in submitting bid documents, a former head of the city's General Services Department told the Senate hearing on the alleged overprice of the Makati City Hall Building II on Thursday.

Mario Hechanova, who worked for the Makati government for 19 years and was involved in procurement, recalled that this supplier, whom he did not name, was with his mother at the time and was pale and "shaking in fear" after the elevator ordeal.

Hechanova said he felt sorry for the supplier and regretted what he had done. "But I was just a soldier who had to follow orders."

He said none of the procurement personnel had questioned the practice of rigging the bidding.

"That's our practice in Makati. That is what we do," he said.

He also said officials fixed the bidding for the controversial P2.3-billion (S$220 million) Makati parking building and other projects to favour Hilmarc's Construction Corp. on the instructions of then Mayor Jejomar Binay, now Vice President.

Even the contractor of the allegedly overpriced P2.28-billion Makati parking building on Thursday admitted it was not claiming it was world-class.

Hilmarc is the general contractor of the 11-story building that was constructed from 2008 to 2013.

"The contractor doesn't make a claim it's world-class," Hilmarc's assistant vice president for legal Rogelio Peig said when asked by Sen. Alan Peter Cayetano to define world-class.

Cayetano asked the most meticulously researched and merciless questions during the hearing.

He praised Pieg for his honesty and said the latter's admission flew in the face of claims by Vice President Binay, who was mayor when the building began construction, that this was world-class.

When Sen. Aquilino Pimentel III, blue ribbon subcommittee chair, pressed him to be more categorical if Hilmarc's built a world-class building, Peig said: "As I said, we can't make that claim."

Pimentel then said: "If you don't make that claim, you're saying it's not world-class."

Makati Mayor Jejomar "Jun-jun" Binay Jr. had justified the cost of the parking building, asserting that this was world-class and the city's version of a "green building."

Binay coursed the instructions to the bids and awards committee (BAC) through then city engineer Nelson Morales, said Hechanova, who graduated from the Technological Institute of the Philippines with a degree in electrical engineering.

As for the supplier trapped in the elevator, Hechanova said the tactic was resorted to because procurement officials had received orders that the contract for fire-fighting equipment must be won by a friend of then Councilor Jejomar Erwin "Junjun" Binay, now the mayor.

He did not name the favoured contractor for this particular project.

Monthly allowance

Binay, through Morales, also allegedly gave Hechanova and other BAC members P200,000 as a monthly allowance to ensure the bidding would be fixed.

To show some semblance of bidding, Makati procurement personnel sought competitors for Hilmarc's and prepared their bidding documents, according to Hechanova.

But their proposals would be more expensive than the offer of Hilmarc's, he told the Senate blue ribbon subcommittee.

For the Makati parking building, Hechanova said Morales had told him to ensure that Hilmarc's would win the contract for the project. But while it was Morales who gave the order, Hechanova believed the instructions came from Binay.

Morales was killed on Sept. 7, 2012, in an ambush in Malinao, Albay province, where he was planning to run for mayor.

"Before this project was bid out, the city engineer called me to his office and told me, 'Mario, as before, you know who must win this project," Hechanova told the Senate subcommittee, quoting the official.

"He told me it was clear that Hilmarc's Construction must win the project," he said.

Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV asked: "So, in other words, the bidding was rigged so Hilmarc's would win?"

Hechanova replied: "It is true, senator, we rigged it."

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