MANILA, Philippines — House Minority Leader Marcelio Libanan scolded officials of the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) on Monday for not fixing damaged portions of Maharlika Highway in Samar province.
He noted that it was an embarrassment for him, House Speaker Martin Romualdez, and President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. as they hail from Eastern Visayas.
During the plenary debates on the proposed 2023 DPWH budget, Libanan asked why DPWH has not fixed the area, given that it was a key passage point for people traveling from Luzon to Mindanao, and vice versa.
“Are we aware that the portion of the highway which passes through Samar is in the worst condition, Mr. Speaker? And this is the highway where only a portion has four lanes but most of it are two lanes, Mr. Speaker, am I correct? And this is the highway where people from Luzon pass through to Mindanao and vice versa,” Libanan asked.
“Mr. Speaker, your Honor, yes we are familiar with the actual condition of the national highways particularly in the areas of Samar, Mr. Speaker,” Surigao del Sur First District Rep. Romeo Momo, who was sponsoring DPWH’s budget, said in reply.
The Maharlika Highway, or the Pan-Philippine Highway, is a network of roads that starts from Laoag in the Ilocos Region, slithering through Cagayan Valley and the Cordillera Administrative Region, going through Central Luzon and Metro Manila and then Southern Luzon and Bicol Region, before crossing seas towards Eastern Visayas and then down to Mindanao.
While most roads up in Luzon are either six-lane or even eight-lane roads like the North Luzon Expressway, the Epifanio de los Santos Avenue, and the South Luzon Expressway, Libanan lamented that portions of the roads in Samar are sometimes two-way roads only.
Libanan then went on to claim that P9 billion would be needed to rehabilitate the road, after Momo failed to provide a specific amount.
Marcos’ mother, former first lady Imelda Marcos, hails from Leyte and is the paternal aunt of Romualdez — making the president and the speaker first cousins.
“Mr. Speaker, this is the problem and we in Samar are baffled as to why we are last at the queue of areas to be fixed when they pass through us. Now they are just planning to make a program of rehabilitation, but these roads have been long damaged, pitting the people against lawmakers when actually, they should pay attention to who implements the projects,” Libanan said in Filipino.
“Mr. Speaker, our Speaker is from this place, the Minority Leader is from this place, it’s a shame, what has Samar done wrong? […] For this coming year, 2023 — you know the president is also a Waray, so if roads in his hometown are damaged, what will the people say — how much have you allocated for these roads?” he asked.
In response, Momo said that P1.585 billion has been allocated for Samar province in the 2023 National Expenditure Program — making it just around 10 percent of the supposed amount of funds needed to fix the road network.
Momo clarified, however, that the DPWH was looking at other funding sources to rehabilitate the roads, like through an official development assistance (ODA) or assistance from a foreign government partnership.
“Yes Mr. Speaker, your Honor, if the total amount is P9 billion or almost P10 billion, then probably this is only about 10.5 percent of the total requirement,” he said.
“But I was informed, Mr. Speaker, your Honor, by the Secretary of Public Works and Highways that this portion of our national highway is the Daang Maharlika, as a whole we will recommend this for total rehabilitation, and they wanted to access funding source from ODA or other funding windows Mr. Speaker, your Honor,” he added.
Libanan also spared DPWH Secretary Manuel Bonoan from blame, as he had just taken office last June. In response, Momo assured the House that fixing the road will be a priority, and will be included in discussions for the 2024 budget.
“Yes your Honor, this will be the priority of the DPWH, this being the main trunkline of the DPWH,” Momo noted.
This is not the first time that a lawmaker raised the issue of damaged roads in Samar: Last Sept. 16, during the per-agency hearing of the House Committee on Appropriations on the same budget, DPWH was also asked about its plans for rehabilitating the Maharlika Highway.
Samar Second District Rep. Reynolds Michael Tan raised this concern, as the “heavily damaged” Samar segment of the Maharlika highway is the worst highway in Eastern Visayas and probably the worst also in the whole country.