PACC exec: Congressmen involved in DPWH graft
PACC exec: Congressmen involved in DPWH graft
Alexis Romero (The Philippine Star) - October 23, 2020 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — Some lawmakers are conspiring with public works personnel and project contractors to commit corruption, an official of President Duterte’s anti-corruption body said yesterday.

Commissioner Greco Belgica of the Presidential Anti-Corruption Commission (PACC) said some lawmakers wield influence over the implementation of local projects and the movement of district engineers.

“DPWH (Department of Public Works and Highways) district engineers are bullied by congressmen. They are involved in those projects,” Belgica told Radyo 5.

“That’s the conspiracy there – Congress, DPWH, contractors, district engineers. District engineers are small employees. If you dismiss them, fire them or move them to another post, they can’t do anything. Powerful people like a congressman really can assert influence so they can be moved to another assignment,” he said.

Belgica did not identify the lawmakers supposedly benefiting from the anomalies in public works projects. He cited the need to centralize operations in state agencies to enhance the monitoring against irregularities.

“You know there are 250 districts, so each one talks to a congressman. It’s not centralized, so there are problems in monitoring,” Belgica said.

Earlier this month, Duterte described the corruption in DPWH as “grave,” prompting the agency to form a task force that would look into alleged anomalies. Last Wednesday, presidential spokesman Harry Roque said Malacañang prefers that an independent body investigate the supposed corruption in DPWH.

Belgica said the activities of the “syndicate” in DPWH were disrupted when the President ordered a reshuffle of personnel before the lockdown.

“Seven months after the lockdown, I heard recently they are trying to get in again and to get back to their former controls… that’s why it has again reached the President’s attention,” he said.

While PACC only covers the President’s appointees, Belgica claimed the body has filed charges against lawmakers and a former president who have been tied to anomalies.

“We did not spare anyone. When we get the report, we investigate and file cases before the ombudsman,” the PACC commissioner said.

Independent experts sought

Infrastructure-oriented think tank Infrawatch PH called on Public Works Secretary Mark Villar to include independent experts in the recently created DPWH anti-corruption task force.

“While we have absolute faith in the integrity of Sec. Villar, the department’s anti-corruption task force requires independent views to ensure that its findings will be transparent and made with integrity. Anything less will be perceived by the public as a ‘komite de abswelto’ if the task force will be composed of agency officials and personnel,” lawyer Terry Ridon, convenor of Infrawatch PH said.

Ridon, who was a colleague of Villar in the 16th Congress, said he welcomes the commitment of the public works chief to work with advocacy groups to ensure transparent proceedings in the task force.

“We appreciate the direct response of Sec. Villar that he is willing to work with advocacy groups to stamp out corruption in his agency. It is our commitment to provide him and the agency independent analysis and reporting on corruption allegations on specific public works projects,” Ridon said.

Infrawatch PH believes that the main problem in government projects is what Ridon called “legal bid rigging” of government contracts if there are only single bidders in projects.

“A review of infrastructure projects with only single bidders would show that its project prices offer no substantial variation from its approved budget, which is the ceiling price for all projects. In one of the more controversial DPWH projects in Metro Manila, the final contract price of P389 million only had a 2.04 percent variance from the approved project budget of P398 million,” he said.

Ridon said this system allows corruption activities to be syndicated by private contractors and personnel in government agencies.

“Prior to the current public bidding law, government projects always require another bidder before any government procurement proceeds, to ensure the best, lowest prices for government given specific standards,” he said. “This was removed in the RA 9184, as it allows sole bidders to proceed with procurement as long the bidder possess all the legal, technical and financial requirements to proceed with the bid.”

He said what the law failed to see is that this mechanism “allows parties to inflate contract prices through legal means, and it is the public that is left holding the bag.”

Ridon also said that in 2017, DPWH funds were used in a P537-million socialized housing project, even if the project contractor had no background or experience in the construction of public mass housing.

He claimed that during his stint as head of the urban poor commission, he objected to the use of DPWH funds for a housing project that involved a contractor that had not undertaken a single public infrastructure project above P150 million yet was awarded a contract to build socialized housing for P537 million.

“The single biggest project undertaken by the contractor was a P130-million house construction project – for the owner of the construction company itself,” he said.

The former PCUP chief said the contractor even rejected suggestions to engage a joint venture partner in order to comply with relevant rules on project track record and amounts.

The contractor rejected this, despite its previous record of entering into joint ventures for other projects. Despite the objections, the socialized housing project was still awarded to the contractor. “But let it be clear – as these are DPWH funds, this absolute lack of control over P357 million public funds constitutes graft, if not plunder,” Ridon said.

The task force, Ridon urged, “should take notice of this and it is our commitment to prosecute all those involved in this project even beyond the term of President Duterte.” – Artemio Dumlao

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