City Council to hold inquiry on Malaybalay's P225-million public market

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MALAYBALAY CITY (MindaNews/16 Nov) – “Where are the two other buildings of the public market?” City Councilor Roland Deticio asked his colleagues at the 10-member city council on the controversial P225-million, three-building public market complex last week.

Deticio and another city councilor, Jay Warren Pabillaran, have raised the question at the city council on November 8. Pabillaran and Deticio, first-termers at the council, garnered the top two highest numbers of votes for city councilors in the May 2010 elections.

In September, both councilors received a letter from an anonymous source who questioned the status of the public market. The letter writer asked the two councilors to investigate the ill-fated infrastructure project.

Deticio has since initiated a motion for the council to set an inquiry on the matter. He told MindaNews Tuesday city councilors backed it in a special meeting Monday.

Only one of the three buildings has been turned over by the contractor, H.R. Lopez Co., Inc., to the city government in 2009. Also, only one floor of the two-floor public market building is operational.

The project includes the construction of an integrated bus terminal and a commercial building.

Deticio said there has been no word from the administration of former mayor, now 2nd District Rep. Florencio T. Flores Jr. or the present administration of Ignacio W. Zubiri about the status of the two buildings.

“Is there still money left to construct the two other buildings?” he asked.

Deticio told MindaNews they will start the inquiry but it will not be limited to the core departments involved in the construction. He specified that they will start with the City Engineer’s Office, the City Legal Office, the City Accountant’s Office, and the Bids and Awards Committee.

The city government of Malaybalay opened its controversial new public market on September 18 with simple rites amidst uncertainties whether the two other phases of the project would push through.

The opening came two years late of its target opening date of November 2007.

The public market project has been the subject of heavy criticism by the public on comments aired over radio station DXDB.

Former Mayor Florencio T. Flores told MindaNews in September 2009 the city government opened the market even if it is not yet complete following the expiration of a nine-month extension given to H.R. Lopez Co., Inc.

Flores challenged his detractors to go to court if they have proof that indeed money changed hands in the project.

He also broke his silence on the allegations the city government hired a contractor that ended up subcontracting the project to another firm.

“It’s for them to settle. We did not deal with a subcontractor,” Flores said. He added that the supposed subcontracted firm, Dreamworks, Inc., who tried to collect payment from the city government, has stopped doing so.

But Flores said they have seriously evaluated the capacity of contractor H.R. Lopez Co., Inc. whether they are able to finish the whole project, adding that extending the project for another term with the contractor is “no longer an option.”

He cited the firm’s doubted capacity and the legal skirmish that fraught the project’s contract and payment scheme as the mix which caused the delay of the 540-day project.

Flores said that for the remaining two phases, they will have to pick from only two options: to rebid or for the City Engineer’s Office to take over. He has been mum yet about possible legal action against the contractor.

In March 2009, Flores told this reporter they are leaving it to the City Legal Office to study the right move after the City Engineer’s Office certified that the firm, H.R. Lopez Co., Inc., had not finished the project despite the nine-month extension.

The firm is supposed to finish within the extended time the whole project, including the integrated bus terminal and the commercial complex adjacent to the public market.

Based on the slippage alone, Flores said, the city government can already take action against the firm.

Then Vice Mayor Ignacio W. Zubiri, now mayor, shared Flores’s position but stressed there should be amicable settlement.

The project was initiated in 2004.

The project was first extended from February to July 2007. In July 2007, the Commission on Audit’s Legal and Adjudication Sector considered the contract void, a decision which the firm appealed in September that year.

Construction was stopped in September 2007, according to city engineer Teodocio Pabillaran, but H.R. Lopez Co. said they stopped in November 2007.

On July 3, 2008, the COA Legal and Adjudication Sector declared no legal impediments to the validity of the contract, prompting the firm to request for the nine-month extension since “they are ready to complete the balance of work.”

Flores endorsed the request on August 1, 2008 to the city council, which approved the extension three months later, on October 21. But councilors noted that the firm resumed construction on August 15, or prior to the approval.

Zubiri said then that the P250-million loan acquired for the project will incur interest only when money is withdrawn. He said rules might allow another extension if the firm asked for it. “But I prefer termination,” he said. (Walter I. Balane / MindaNews)

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