Lacson flags DPWH ‘white elephants’, ‘skeletons’
MANILA, Philippines — Sen. Panfilo Lacson on Wednesday said up to P135 billion had been allocated from the public works department’s budget for nearly 6,000 projects that were unfinished despite multiple million-peso funding in recent years, wasting the people’s money.
Lacson, who spoke during Senate deliberations on the P4.5-trillion 2021 national budget, also said he found disparities between “extraordinarily huge amounts” and relatively small allocations for infrastructure projects in some parts of the country.
He said his staff found 5,913 “rehashed” projects worth P135 billion, including “skeletons” of multipurpose buildings (MPBs) and those that were abandoned for various reasons and had turned into “white elephants.”
“There could not be a better illustration of how acts of corruption are committed than by the misuse and abuse of public funds — not anymore by the hundreds of thousands but by the millions of pesos, wasted during implementation of the national budget or the General Appropriations Act (GAA),” he said.
“It would be like tolerating fraud if we continue allotting funds even after we have already seen how many of the local projects remained to be skeletons even after we have appropriated a few million pesos,” he said.
Sen. Sonny Angara, the main sponsor of the budget as chair of the finance committee, said the issues raised by Lacson may be explored when they scrutinize the budget of the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) with Public Works Secretary Mark Villar.
Lacson proposed that the total P68 billion allocated for the construction of MPBs in the 2021 budget be spent instead for evacuation centers or quarantine facilities.
Angara said proposals for the fund realignment may be discussed during the period of amendments.Lacson also raised the issue of disparities in the funding of DPWH projects, comparing a P15.351-billion allocation for “one urban [engineering] district in Davao” against another that received only P42 million.
“What’s in those districts that could merit, not to mention, absorptive capacity? Because I cannot see how that engineering district could implement P15.351 billion of infrastructure projects [in one year],” the senator said, without giving details of the project.
After scouring the DPWH but without citing specifics, he said he found a district in Benguet province set to get P7.9 billion. He also found one district in Albay province that was allotted P7.5 billion, while another in Abra province was to be given P3.75 billion.
Referring to the four districts, he said: “That’s the honor roll, Mr. President—horror roll.”
He was addressing Senate President Vicente Sotto III, who was surprised by Lacson’s findings.
“I never came across something like that in the past because before, allocations were usually meant to benefit not only a single district, but an entire province,” he said.
DPWH budget scrutiny
Sotto said he would suspend any judgment on Lacson’s exposé, until he sees the DPWH budget.
“We have to look at the DPWH budget first before we can make any conclusion. How many districts are there in Davao, and which one (is Senator Lacson referring to)?” Sotto said.
The Davao Region, or Region 11, is composed of five provinces: Davao de Oro, Davao del Norte, Davao del Sur, Davao Oriental, and Davao Occidental. Its regional center and main urban area is Davao City, which comprises a single engineering district.
The allocation among engineering districts has been a ticklish issue in the ongoing preparation of the national budget as early as during its deliberation in the House of Representatives.
Some House members protested against the huge allocations in the budget of a number of engineering districts, including Taguig City represented by former Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano and his wife, Laarni Cayetano.
Lacson showed his colleagues photos of unfinished MPBs and road projects in various parts of the country which have received yearly allotments.
One MPB project at Sapilang village in Bacnotan town, La Union province, received a total of P15.6 million from 2017 to 2020. The DPWH allocated another P5 million for it in 2021.
He expressed dismay over “questionable items” in the proposed spending law that would be funded partly with loans which would raise the country’s debt to P12 trillion.
“We are borrowing money because we need vaccine (for coronavirus). And yet, see for yourselves how funds are being wasted,” he said.
He showed a picture of the building with a partly finished roof over over an exposed ground still with plants that was to be its floor.
“Now, pray tell, does this structure, a 400-square meter structure, look like it’s (worth) P15.6 million to you? And shall we allow to allocate another P5 million for this project in 2021? I think the picture will answer your question,” he said.“But the government has already spent P15.6 million, and that is how it still looks. It’s a skeleton structure as we speak,” the senator said.
He said some DPWH engineers estimate that the finished building should only cost P10 million.
A similar building at Linomot village in Jones, Isabela province, already got P21 million and was to be given additional funds for next year.
Lacson said an MPB in Bacnotan town, La Union province, got a P20 million budget in 2021 after P15 million had already been spent for it in 2019 and 2020.
“But this structure was funded by the (local government unit), not from the GAA. Where did the P10 million and P5 million (from the 2019 and 2020 GAA, respectively) go?” he said.
‘Road to nowhere’
Another picture showed by Lacson was of a proposed evacuation center in Bangar municipality, also in La Union, that the DPWH had allocated P3 million for “completion” on a property where a house still stands.
He showed a picture of a “road to nowhere” in Cagayan de Oro City that already took more than P1 billion to build and was allocated an additional P414.5 million in 2021 despite being hounded by road right-of-way problems.
The picture showed a house in the middle of one lane of the two-lane road.
“It was supposed to pass through a mountain, which is why a tunnel was planned; but then again, the tunnel project was abandoned and became a white elephant, but only after it was funded with P1.8 billion,” he said. “If it does not reflect poor planning I don’t know what is.”
A road leading to the Lidong Seaport in Santo Domingo, Albay, received a funding of P20 million in 2020 and is getting P2 million in the 2021 GAB, Lacson added.
“We were told Lidong Seaport is privately owned. So why would government spend for a project that is being used by the Chinese for their quarrying activities? You be the judge,” he said.