By John Ezekiel J. Hirro

President Rodrigo Duterte on Monday asked senators why Hilmarc’s Construction Corp. (HCC) was tapped to build the Senate’s new building despite allegedly overpricing previous government projects.

In a “Talk to the People” address, the president specifically called out Sen. Richard Gordon to discuss the firm’s history and explain why it was chosen for the Senate building project.

“May I ask the senators if it is true that Hilmarc’s…is the contractor of the new Senate building being constructed? Is this the same Hilmarc contractor that built the Iloilo Convention Center and the Makati City Hall Building II that the Senate also investigated during the last administration?” Duterte asked.

The Iloilo Convention Center and the Makati City Hall Building II, which cost P700 million and P2.3 billion, respectively, were both probed for alleged graft.

“Gusto ko rin malaman na sa iyo, Mr. Gordon, ‘yung dalawang building pakireport na rin sa tao. The reason why the people are also interested in the investigation, in the audit, is gusto ng tao buksan ninyo ang libro para makita kung saan tumakbo ‘yung pera,” Duterte added.

Duterte raised the issue of the construction firm amid the Senate’s probe on government supply deals with Pharmally Pharmaceutical Corp..

‘Barking up the wrong tree’

But Duterte was barking up the wrong tree, Sen. Panfilo Lacson said.

“It was the DPWH (Department of Public Works and Highways” that prepared the Program Of Works, the Terms of Reference and all bid documents, conducted the bidding, awarded, prepared the contract, signed the contract, and issued the notice to proceed, including the cost of the building,” Lacson, who will run for president in 2022, said in a statement.

“President Duterte has been grossly misinformed…He should have asked his own [DPWH], being the procuring and implementing agency of the project,” he added.

The new Senate building costs over P8 billion.