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Duterte mulls DPWH probe

MJ Blancaflor



President Rodrigo Duterte might order an investigation into alleged corruption at the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) after he claimed that irregularities remain rampant in the agency, the Palace said Thursday.

In a televised briefing, presidential spokesperson Harry Roque said the Chief Executive could “possibly” direct authorities to look into DPWH-led construction projects.

The Palace official, however, noted that all eyes at the present are focused on the Philippine Health Insurance Corp. (PhilHealth) which has also been marred by allegations of corruption.

“It is possible to do that but let’s set it aside for now because the President is focused on PhilHealth,” Roque said.

Duterte, in a speech Wednesday night, expressed frustration that a portion of expenses for infrastructure projects goes to corruption. Without naming officials, Duterte added DPWH executives were lined up in a “bureaucratic maze” and were involved in anomalies.

“At the DPWH, that is rampant there. Projects, those project engineers. All of that, road, right-of-way, corruption is massive there. No construction begins without transaction,” he said.

“If Congress would really want to know, funds of DPWH projects really have ‘give.’ I do not know who. There are so many officials lined up in the bureaucratic maze so I do not know who among them,” Duterte added.

Despite this, Roque said the President continues to trust DPWH Secretary Mark Villar since he implemented projects despite alleged irregularities in his agency.

“(He) has full trust and confidence with Secretary Villar because despite corruption in the DPWH, Secretary Villar has delivered. It helps that Secretary Villar’s family has more money than the DPWH,” Roque told reporters.

DPWH flagged
The President’s speech came after Senators Franklin Drilon and Panfilo Lacson flagged the agency’s proposed P345 billion “lump-sum-riddled” budget for 2021. Lawmakers also questioned why over 50 percent of the DPWH’s budget was lodged under the agency’s central office during its deliberations on the government’s spending plan.

Villar has earlier denied that there were lump sums in his agency’s budget.

The DPWH is slated to get P667 billion, a 52 percent increase from this year’s appropriations.

Roque said the President’s remarks highlight Duterte’s commitment to spend the remaining two years of his presidency in eradicating corruption in all government agencies.

Last month, the President told the public that he had offered to resign from his post due to massive corruption in the government. This prompted him to meet with Congress leaders and ask them to pass a bill that would cut corruption and red tape in state offices and agencies.

Senator Christopher “Bong” Go, a close ally of the President, urged the DPWH to ensure the completion of all its priority infrastructure projects before Duterte’s term ends.

Go said the DPWH must exert more effort to meet the targets of the administration’s infrastructure programs.

“The department needs to act double time in their efforts to lengthen, widen, maintain and construct roads. It must also make sure that it is on top when it comes to mitigating flood and building disaster-resilient infrastructures,” Go said.

Amendments sought
Meantime, Senator Panfilo Lacson reiterated that he will seek amendments on the P666.47-billion budget of the DPWH if there are no “substantial changes” between the projects included in the National Expenditures Program (NEP) and the House of Representatives version of the proposed P4.5-trillion 2021 national budget.

In a statement, Lacson maintained that the addendum which he tagged as a “mangled and mutilated” version is “highly questionable” as only Congress has the “exclusive function” to amend the NEP.

The DPWH should have only “detailed” the lump sums and not amend the budgetary items under the NEP.

His statement came a day after he flagged, in a Senate budget hearing, the “pattern of decreased budgets for national projects and increased budgets for local projects” in the addendum sent by DPWH in the NEP.

Lacson asked Secretary Villar of any possible “interventions” of some lawmakers in the listing of projects in the said addendum.

Open secret
He further pointed out that it is already an “open secret” that some government officials and legislators are getting “kickbacks” from the contractors who won government infrastructure projects.

This, he said, has already been a “rule rather than exemption” in project implementations.

Lacson disclosed that contractors even “talk behind the back” of these officials calling them names “too degrading to mention.”

Based on contractors’ personal experiences with officials, both from the Executive and the Legislative branches, Lacson said those who ask for 10 percent kickbacks are called mabait at maginoong kausap.

Those who ask for 20 to 30 percent kickbacks are called matakaw while those who ask for advanced payments or those who renege on the deal are called balasubas and mandurugas.

“That being said, if no substantial adjustments are made once the final version of the 2021 GAB is transmitted to the Senate, hopefully, next week as promised by the new Speaker, I intend to propose during our plenary debates to cut or realign the excessive and unjustified ‘NEP amendments’ that the DPWH illegally made,” Lacson said in his statement.

Lacson also acknowledged President Duterte’s mention of corruption in the “much-abused” DPWH budget as “timely” as the Congress currently scrutinize the agency’s funding.