Get real
Philippine Daily Inquirer, 30 August 2014


“World-class” was the term applied by Mayor Junjun Binay to justify the P2.2-P2.7 billion (the final amount is still in doubt) cost of the parking building of Makati City Hall. So I looked up the term. It means “being of an international standard of excellence ranking among the world’s best.” Or, from a business dictionary, “goods, services and processes that are ranked by customers and industry experts to be among the best of the best.” Or “standard-setting excellence in terms of design, performance, quality and customer satisfaction and value when compared with all similar items anywhere in the world.” You get the gist.

There’s nothing like a physical inspection to decide whether indeed something is world-class. So I decided to steal a march on the Senate blue ribbon committee and take a look at the building first-hand, accompanied by my friend Ging Gecolea, a Makati resident and, until recently, an avid supporter of Jojo Binay when he was mayor. I received a text message from Ging after she read my column last week. She is apparently familiar with the parking building, having visited it a number of times on business, and when she heard Mayor Junjun’s description of the building as world-class, her reaction was one of disbelief. So she offered to escort me to the building so I could see it for myself.

The offer was one I couldn’t refuse, and two days ago we set out on our adventure. She knew the shortcut to the building, so there was no doubt in my mind that she had been there before.

My first impression as we approached the building: nothing spectacular, design-wise.  Maybe, thought I, its world-class aspect comes from the inside.

The building is called City Hall II (engraved on the front). City Hall I is a 22-story building in the background. A question comes to mind:  With a city population of 600,000—okay, so the day population is about a million—isn’t 22 stories enough? Why the need to expand the office space (the parking building has five stories of office space)? That’s a question which should be answered.

We enter the building through the parking garage, and my first view of the inside does nothing to change my first impression. Tight. Hard to maneuver. Definitely not on par with parking buildings I have seen in First World countries. Ging was running a commentary: Up to the last time she was in the building (June), the parking garage was full of impediments to parking spaces in the first four floors, and she and her husband had to go up to the sixth floor. One of the two elevators was out of order, and the other elevator was always full, so they used the stairs to go to where they needed to go.

But, lo and behold! On that day, there were no more prohibitions for us ordinary folk, but since I wanted to see more of the parking arrangements, we drove up to the fourth floor and waited for the elevator.

Another lo and behold! Both elevators were working. Not only that: They were staffed by elevator operators (Ging said there was none during her June visit). True enough, when I asked the girl how long she had been working, she said she was new.

There is an atrium on the seventh floor, the start of the office space. There was no indication of any special materials in the flooring or in the ceilings. Nothing world-class. In fact, in spite of the atrium, I thought the passageways were too dim.

What was clear, looking at the building interiors, was that there was ongoing activity to spruce up; the stairwells and walls, which appeared to be in a state of deterioration, were being painted. Whether this was in preparation for The Visit (by the Senate blue ribbon committee), it was hard to tell.

Going up to the 11th floor, we found out (lo and behold!) that the entire floor is not for office space at all. It has been divided into 32 storage areas. The ceilings were not finished—or at least one could see the pipes exposed. But you know what that means: There seems to be only four floors available for office space. Wow. As much as P2.2 billion for this?

The roof deck and the atrium, which are the basis of the building’s claims to being “green,” were mediocre. And a garden on the roof—or at least the one I saw—cannot be all that costly. There was no seating available, so I don’t know who takes advantage of it, especially since one has to climb stairs to get to the roof garden.

During all this time, I had no idea I was in any kind of trouble. I only found out when, moving down toward the first floor of the parking garage, my car was stopped by a security guard, and other guards joined in. What was the problem? Apparently, I was “caught” on CCTV taking pictures. They wanted to know who I was, why I was taking pictures, who was going to use the pictures. I had to wait until the chief of security came down to talk to me before I could leave the building.

My first reaction was to be incensed, but a sense of humor prevailed, especially since “these are sensitive areas, you know, the building has been in the news.” Besides, said my husband when I told him the story, for all they knew, I was a terrorist taking pictures of where I could plant bombs.

There is only one sense in which that building could be called world-class—the informal sense, where something is world-class when it is considered to be a notorious example of its kind, as in: The building is an example of world-class overpricing.

Think of it. How can a building with six floors of parking (seven including the basement), four floors of office space, and one floor of storage cost P2.2 billion and change, unless it was overpriced?