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Senate open to third-party review of chamber’s building

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A SENATOR on Wednesday said media and other experts should scrutinize the accounts related to the construction of a new Philippine Senate building in Taguig City after it was ordered halted due to rising costs.

“There are many questions, so have a parallel review and dig into not only footage, not only statements but also the history and documents,” Senator Alan Peter S. Cayetano, who heads the committee on accounts, said in mixed English and Filipino via Facebook Live on Wednesday.

The lawmaker, who earlier recommended the project halt in a report to Senate President Francis “Chiz” G. Escudero, said the accounts are public documents.

Mr. Escudero on Monday ordered the suspension of construction work for the new Senate building due to “escalating costs,” citing the need to review expenses and management practices.

He said the Senate would not be transferring to the Taguig building by September or anytime next year after the project cost rose to P23 billion from P8.9 billion.

Mr. Cayetano said the review of the building construction should be factual “It can’t be based on suspicion, speculation and assumption.”

He told the Senate chief about the rising expenses for the building in a report on June 7.

Procurement delays by the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) and changes to the project had led to additional expenses worth P833 million.

Mr. Escudero agreed with Mr. Cayetano’s recommendations, including identifying “underlying problems in the project and compelling the DPWH to question, evaluate and rectify issues that can still be corrected,” he said in a statement on Monday.

The Senate has been renting its Pasay City building, which is owned by the Government Service Insurance System, since 1997.

In 2017, Senator Sherwin T. Gatchalian filed a resolution that created an ad hoc committee to study the construction of the new Senate building, which is being built in Fort Bonifacio in Taguig City.

“Let’s not speculate, let’s not make accusations (about building costs), let’s make sure that our information is complete and accurate,” Mr. Cayetano said.

“The goal is to have the best functional, iconic Senate Building that will be a symbol of our democratic process, of the will of the Filipino people.

“It is only prudent to scrutinize projects involving public funds,” Party-list Rep. Ramon Rodrigo L. Gutierrez said in a statement. “We owe it to our constituents to ensure that every peso is spent wisely and effectively.”

“This project is a prime example of why stringent checks and balances are essential. The significant cost overrun calls for a reassessment to protect our nation’s fiscal health,” he added.

Party-list Rep. Raul Angelo “Jil” D. Bongalon in the same statement cited the need for transparency, adding that “every centavo must be accounted for to prevent misuse of funds.”

Zambales Rep. Jefferson F. Khonghun said delaying the project pending review is a “responsible decision.” “We must address any concerns and ensure the project aligns with the best interests of the Filipino people.” — John Victor D. Ordoñez and Kenneth Christiane L. Basilio

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