Duterte: DPWH corruption grave; Villar cites reforms
The Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) is ridden with corruption, and no construction work begins without money changing hands, President Duterte said on Wednesday.
He did not provide details of the irregular transactions, but he said the problem was serious.
“Projects, project engineers, all of that, the road right-of-way, the corruption there is grave. No construction begins without a transaction,” Duterte said in a televised address to the nation.
There are many
He said he did not know who were involved, but there were a lot of them.
“There are so many officials lined up in the bureaucratic maze so I don’t know which of them are involved, even those for the medicines and all,” he said.
Duterte called the attention of Congress to the corruption in the DPWH.
Senators have questioned the lump sums in the DPWH budget, as well as its massive funding for local projects compared with national infrastructure programs.
There have also been allegations that government infrastructure projects have become a source of kickbacks or commissions that contractors pay to the project proponents.
But Public Works Secretary Mark Villar enjoys Duterte’s “full trust and confidence,” according to presidential spokesperson Harry Roque.
“Despite the corruption in the DPWH, Secretary Villar delivered. It helps that Secretary Villar’s family has more money than the DPWH,” Roque said at a press briefing.
The secretary’s father, real estate tycoon Manuel Villar, a former senator, is the richest Filipino on the Forbes’ list of billionaires for this year, with an estimated net worth of $5.7 billion, or close to P280 billion. Roque also said the President’s statement was meant to highlight the challenges in the remaining two years of his term, which included fighting corruption in government, especially in the DPWH and in Philippine Health Insurance Corp (PhilHealth).
He added that it is possible Duterte will call for an investigation into corruption in the DPWH, but at the moment, he was focused on PhilHealth.
Villar said the DPWH had taken steps to deal with corruption in the agency.
“We are one with the President’s goal of ending corruption, that’s why we take it as a challenge to further institute reforms in the department,” he said at a news briefing.
The DPWH has put in place a monitoring system that includes the geotagging of projects, Villar said. The system allows the department to keep a close watch on the progress and condition of projects, he added.
The department will also be stricter with contractors, and has blacklisted nearly 30 of them, Villar said.
As for the senators’ questions about lump sums in the DPWH budget, he said the lawmakers might have first seen the initial summary of the projects, but the department had already submitted the details of these.
With regard to the local projects, Villar said some of these may be classified as local, but they also had a national purpose. Examples of these are roads going to tourism sites, he said.
Sen. Panfilo Lacson on Thursday said he would push for the realignment of the DPWH’s P666.47-billion proposed budget for 2021, parts of which, he claimed, were padded to accommodate infrastructure projects of unscrupulous officials.
In a statement, the Senate’s pork hunter expressed delight at the President’s raising corruption involving the “much abused” DPWH budget, saying it came just as the Senate was tackling the agency’s proposed funding for next year.
“It has become an open secret that commissions or kickbacks have become the rule rather than the exception in the implementation of public works projects involving not only some corrupt officials of the department but some legislators as well,” Lacson said.
On Wednesday, the senator flagged P67 billion for the construction of “multipurpose buildings” in the DPWH budget, which is supposed to be dedicated to pulling the country from economic slump due to the coronavirus pandemic.
“I wonder how multipurpose buildings will contribute to the ‘Reset, Rebound, Recover’ theme of the budget,” Lacson said in grilling Villar during a budget hearing held by videoconferencing.
Lacson questioned Villar about the “pattern of decreased budgets for national projects and increased budgets for local projects.”
In the National Expenditure Program (NEP), Malacañang’s budget proposal, P131.44 billion was allocated for road network development, but this was reduced by P21.45 billion to P109.99 billion in the DPWH proposed budget.
The allocation for bridge projects was cut by P6.5 billion, funding for flood management projects was slashed by P4.5 billion, and the outlay for asset preservation was trimmed by P9.81 billion.
Lacson said the new budget submitted by the DPWH on Sept. 7—well beyond Department of Budget and Management deadline—was a “mangling” of the original budget contained in the NEP submitted by the Palace in August. “I can’t recognize it anymore,” he told Villar and asked him if the changes were due to “interventions from some legislators.”
Lacson described the DPWH “amendments” to the NEP as “highly questionable.” He said revisions should not amend original submissions, as revision was the exclusive function of Congress, “thus preparation, authorization, execution and accountability.”
Lacson blamed corruption in the DPWH for the padding of local projects, with legislators manipulating the projects in connivance with corrupt officials in the agency in exchange for kickbacks.
He said contractors had terms for the varying degrees of corruption among agency officials and legislators.
“Officials from the executive and legislative branches who ask for only 10 percent [of the project cost] are described as kind and gentlemanly; those who demand 20 to 30 percent are [called] greedy, [and] those who demand advance payments but renege on their word [are denounced as swindlers],” Lacson said.
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