Tulfo exposes ‘wide-scale corruption scheme’ in NIA, calls for probe
MANILA, Philippines — Senator Raffy Tulfo on Tuesday fumed over the “wide-scale corruption scheme” allegedly persisting inside the National Irrigation Administration (NIA) as he called on the Senate blue ribbon committee to investigate the deluge of supposed irregularities in the agency’s projects.
Tulfo rued the hefty budget that had been earmarked for the NIA since 2017, which, he said, only feeds corruption instead of addressing food security woes.
He took a deep dive into the alleged irregularities in the NIA operations, even name-dropping contractors supposedly favored by the state-run corporation.
“There appears to be a wide-scale corruption scheme that has persisted for far too long. Kung bakit hindi pa ito naiimbestigahan at kung bakit wala pang nananagot sa pagsunog ng pera ng bayan ay kailangan din pagtuunan ng pansin,” Tulfo said in a privilege speech at the Senate plenary.
(We should also focus on why this has not been investigated and why those wasting public funds have not been held accountable.)
He then called on Senator Francis Tolentino, head of the chamber’s blue ribbon panel, to probe this “long-standing corruption issue.”
Tulfo also took note of the nearing budget season in Congress as he appealed for his fellow lawmakers to thoroughly scrutinize how public funds are used across all government agencies.
But what are the alleged irregularities in the NIA, which Tulfo bared before the Senate?
Slow to no progress of NIA projects
Tulfo said most NIA projects, which were started more than five years ago, have yet to be completed.
“Mas matindi pa, ilan dito ay hindi man lang gumagana, kahit taon na ang lumipas mula nang nabigyan ito ng notice to proceed,” he said.
(What’s worse is some of these projects are not even functioning, even if it has been years since they were issued notices to proceed.)
Should NIA argue that this is because it has yet to pay its contractors in full, Tulfo said there is no excuse to keep the agency’s funds in limbo instead of using it to provide farmers with their needs like farm machinery and fertilizer, among others.
Faulty, favored contractors
Tulfo also alleged that there are bidding contracts that the NIA purposely keeps away from the public eye.
Lack of transparency when it comes to government bidding contracts will make it easy for people to get away with corruption, he said.
He also accused the NIA’s bids and awards panel of favoring the following contractors:
- Oscar Sarmiento Construction Inc.
- R.D. Interior Junior Construction
- J.D. Construction and Supply
- Brostan Construction
“Kahit ang ilan pa dito ay nalagay na sa ‘blacklist’ ng NIA, merong dokyumento ang aking opisina na nagpapakita na nagpalit lamang sila ng pangalan at muling sumasabak sa bidding,” Tulfo said.
(Even if some of them are already on the ‘blacklist’ of the NIA, my office has received documents showing that they would try again in the bidding after merely changing their names.)
Despite the alleged defective bidding process and underperformance of its contractors, Tulfo said the NIA still receives consistent funding from the government.
“This is an undeniable red flag of institutional corruption. We give these contractors the people’s tax money and they just give us falsified reports of their accomplishment to help them in their corruption schemes,” the senator said partly in Filipino.
According to Tulfo, his office also has documents on hand showing that the NIA receives from its contractors purportedly fabricated accomplishment reports.
“Ang datos ay nagpapakita ng malaking pagkakaiba sa pagitan ng reported at actual na percentage of completion. Ibig sabihin nito, nabibigyan ng pera ang contractor kahit wala o kulang ang kanilang ginagawa,” he said.
(The data shows a big difference between the reported and actual completion percentages. This means the contractors receive money even though they haven’t done anything.)
But, Tulfo said, the irregularities in the NIA go beyond “failed or uncompleted projects.”
“Meron pang sinasabing mga ‘ghost projects’ na karamihan ay isinagawa sa Mindanao. Umaabot sa tumataginting na P890 million ang projects na mukhang hindi naman talaga inumpisahan pero pinondohan ng gobyerno,” he said.
(There are also so-called ‘ghost projects’, and most of them are done in Mindanao. These projects reach up to P890 million and seem to have never set sail, yet are funded by the government.)
Around 28 projects were found to be anomalous after being checked by the NIA inspection and assessment team, according to Tulfo.
“Substandard ang mga trabaho. Ilang portion ng proyekto ay hindi man lang inumpisahan. Pangit o ‘poor worksmanship’ ang assessment, at inililipat ang target area ng project mula sa original na nakalagay sa kontrata ng NIA,” he said.
(The work is substandard. Some portions of the project were not even started. Lousy and ‘poor workmanship’ are common assessments. The target areas of the projects are also moved from what is originally stated in the NIA contract.)
Tulfo noted that most of the dubious NIA projects were allegedly approved by Deputy Administrator C’zar Sulaik.
Senate fact-finding body
The NIA controversy unearthed by Tulfo was hailed by his fellow senators, who called for action beyond a Senate probe.
Senate Minority Leader Aquilino Pimentel III lauded Tulfo for naming corporations allegedly involved in the NIA mess. But he bared hopes to “pierce the corporate veil” by naming in Senate exposés the people behind purportedly corrupt firms dealing with the government.
Senate President Juan Miguel Zubiri, meanwhile, broached the idea of establishing an office in the Senate that looks into how different government bodies, especially those hounded by corruption allegations, are using their respective budgets.
“Magpadala tayo ng tracker teams para makita kung itong projects ba na ito ay natutupad, nako-construct o guni-guni lang natin at nawala na iyong pera? I’m willing to take it a step further if our colleagues will agree,” he said.
(Let’s deploy tracker teams to check if these projects are actualized, constructed, or are mere figments of our imagination as the funds disappear. I’m willing to take it a step further if our colleagues will agree.)
In November last year, the NIA was reportedly in “silent chaos” and “confusion” after its chief Benny Antiporda was slapped with a suspension order by the Office of the Ombudsman due to accusations of grave misconduct, harassment and oppression.
President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. has since appointed former Piddig, Ilocos Norte Mayor Eduardo Guillen as acting head of the NIA.