Corruption at the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) remains widespread, President Rodrigo Duterte told lawmakers Wednesday night.
Duterte made the statement after Congress started its special session to deliberate on the P4.5 trillion national budget for 2021.
“If Congress would want really to know, there is corruption embedded in the projects of the DPWH. I just don’t know who is involved,” he said in a mix of English and Filipino.
“There are so many officials lined up in the bureaucratic maze so I don’t know who they are,” he added.
Duterte said contractors were scheming with the DPWH to carry out corrupt practices.
“These contractors. The first whiff, you can already smell they’ll ask money from you… Here in the DPWH, it’s strong,” he said.
“The project engineers, road right-of-way, corruption there is massive. There’s no construction that will start without transactions made,” he added.
Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon earlier questioned the DPWH about having P345 billion in lump-sum appropriations in its 2021 budget.
He also asked why over 50 percent of the agency’s total budget was lodged under the DPWH central office.
Last month, DPWH Secretary Mark Villar denied that there were lump sums in his agency’s budget.
The DPWH is slated to get P667 billion, a 52 percent increase from this year’s budget.
The Duterte administration is building roads, bridges, airports, railways among others under the ‘Build, Build, Build’ infrastructure program.
On Thursday, Villar said close to 30 contractors have been blacklisted as part of the department’s anti-corruption efforts.
“We take the challenge of the President and we will continue to fight harder to stop corruption,” Villar said.
Villar said they have introduced reforms to weed out corruption.
“We have the monitoring systems. So far, all of our projects have geo-tagging so we would know the condition or status of the projects. We continue to remain strict in our campaign,” he added.
Villar is also optimistic that the agency’s proposed budget for 2021 would pass the tight scrutiny of lawmakers.
“We were at the (Senate) committee hearing yesterday (Wednesday) and we were able to answer the questions of Senator Panfilo Lacson,” he said.
Lacson flagged the agency’s allocation for local projects which increased to P229 billion from the original allocation of P176.15 billion.
“Sometimes, there are local projects that have a national purpose like roads going to tourism sites, roads going to airports. These maybe local projects but their significance is on a national scope,” he said.
Villar said local workers are prioritized in the hiring for infrastructure projects.
Foreign workers would be hired for their technical expertise, he added.
“Whenever there are new technologies coming from other countries, especially in foreign-funded projects, we need their (foreign workers) technical expertise. But eventually, we hope to transfer this technical expertise to our local workers. For now, we still need foreign workers,” he added.
Despite Duterte’s remarks about corruption at the DPWH, the Palace said Villar still enjoy’s the President’s confidence.
Presidential spokesman Harry Roque lauded Villar for the completion of the Metro Manila Skyway Stage 3 Expressway that connects the southern and northern part of Metro Manila.
On Wednesday, Villar announced that the 18-kilometer elevated expressway, which links the two major expressways in Luzon – the South Luzon Expressway (SLEX) and North Luzon Expressway (NLEX) – was completed ahead of the Oct. 31 schedule.
With Skyway 3, travel from SLEX to NLEX will now only take 20 minutes, from about three hours previously.
The elevated expressway aims to decongest traffic in Metro Manila by providing a diversion road for Edsa and other major roads in Metro Manila.
Lacson on Thursday said it was timely for the President to raise corruption at the DPWH.
“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.
“Fact is, contractors openly talk behind the backs of these officials using descriptions too degrading to even mention,” he added.
Senator Christopher Go, meanwhile, urged the DPWH to ensure that priority infrastructure projects are completed before Duterte’s term ends.
Senate Minority Leader Franklin M. Drilon, on the other hand, pressed the DPWH to hasten the construction of the proposed Panay-Guimaras-Negros bridge.
He expressed frustration over the slow pace of progress on the PGN bridge that will connect the three major islands in Western Visayas.
“This is very frustrating. We have been pushing for this project – all of us, the people of Panay, Guimaras and Negros. But it is just like a business-as-usual for the DPWH,” Drilon said.
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