Ultimate greed

The Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP) was the largest robbery in broad daylight this country has ever seen. Hundreds of billions of pesos were hurriedly spent for projects that didn’t undergo rigid planning. Most skipped the processes for procurement like transparent public biddings. The result is that tens of billions of pesos were stolen under the auspices of “matuwid na daan”.

There is no better illustration for this grand plunder than the more than two billion pesos in infrastructure projects implemented in Iloilo City by the Department of Public Works and Highways. It only takes a brief glance at the program of works for the projects to reach a conclusion that this was a criminal operation.

On top of the list is the 1.9 kilometer stretch of the Diversion Road, officially known as the Benigno Aquino Jr. Ave., between the Iloilo River and El 98 in Jaro. The contract price for that short length is P298 million. It involved road widening by one lane on each side, with pavement-tiled bike lanes and service road for the north-bound lane.  At that price, each kilometer of this “beautiful” road cost the taxpayer P156.8 million.

If this fails to shock readers, I don’t know what will. But that is a scandalous overprice by any standards. How its sponsor, Senate President Franklin Drilon, allowed the DPWH to pad the costs to this stratospheric level is difficult to understand. When a kilometer of concrete road by DPWH standards costs only P15 million, this figure demonstrates that the person behind the project possessed the ultimate greed.

But it doesn’t end there. The man behind the Diversion Road must have liked it so much he decided to extend the reach of the ultimate greed machine. Three months ago, DPWH parceled out contracts for more road widening activities on the Diversion Road. One section of the widening project commences at station 6+740 and ends at station 6+940. Its length is just 200 lineal meters. The budget is P22,964,074.44. Two hundred lineal meters! That’s equivalent to P11,482,037.22 per 100 meters.

For this batch of road widening projects for the Diversion Road, the total DPWH appropriation was P167,326,488.54, covering only a total distance of 2.2 kilometers of actual new road surface with pedestrian and bike lanes. That makes the unit cost of the additional road widening a staggering P74,953,921 per kilometer. “Susmaryosep” is a tame expression for the shock it brings to decent people.

There are more contracts like this for the road widening of the Diversion Road, and I could hazard a guess that by the time it reaches Sambag, the expenditures could reach P1 billion. Offhand, the kickbacks from the overpricing for this Diversion Road road widening can’t possibly be less than half a billion pesos. Easy money, at the expense of the people.

Only a man with black soul could orchestrate such a great robbery of public funds. This man used the disguise of accelerated development knowing fully well that only his bank deposits will swell like the Pasig River overflowing its banks. The indecency of this man cannot possibly be matched. What’s worse, he invoked the name of the poor to justify his thundering plunder.

Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago noticed these construction activities when she arrived in Iloilo City to deliver the commencement address for the West Visayas State University in March this year. Unable to contain her frustration, Senator Miriam took a swipe at the people behind the projects. She said: “More projects, more kickbacks.”

Is the road widening of the Diversion Road a justified way of spending public funds? Perhaps if the overpricing were kept to the minimum, I would join those who applaud this project of the Senate President. But there is clearly no rhyme or reason in the way it was pursued and implemented. It’s not as if the Senate President was struck by a lightning bolt of inspiration, and he conceived of a beautiful eight-lane highway. The real intention was different.

Like most other DAP projects, the road widening was picked out of thin air just to have a reason to squander billions of pesos in public funds. It wasn’t included in the long-term plan of the DPWH. Just two years ago, DPWH spend more than P60 million for a road widening project along the Diversion Road. Hardly had the concrete dried on the first project when it was demolished to make way for Drilon’s pet project. That P60 million was pulverized and wasted before the public could start to enjoy its use. Why? Because it stood in the way of this great highway robbery!

With this in mind, it’s easy to see that its only reason for being was to accelerate the fattening of somebody’s bank accounts, and not to accelerate the development of Iloilo City. A greedy stomach that is larger than a Hippopotamus won’t settle for only a few millions from DAP. This greed had to be fed with overpriced projects to satisfy it.

No matter how they present it, there’s no way the character of DAP could be sweetened or lightened. It is soaking with evil purposes. And I am confident it won’t be too long before the people behind this great highway robbery are indicted by the Ombudsman and sent to prison to share space with Tanda, Pogi and Sexy. It won’t be too long before the detention facilities of Camp Crame will become one giant piggery farm, with so much pork getting into its cells.

Ombudsman seeks COA help in graft probe on Drilon project

Ombudsman seeks COA help in graft probe on Drilon project

NEWS RELEASE

The Office of the Ombudsman-Visayas has asked the Commission on Audit (COA) in Region VI to undertake an audit of the P33.9-million contract to build the Esplanade II project along the Iloilo River which is alleged to be overpriced and the public bidding rigged.

In a 1st Indorsement dated May 6, 2014, Deputy Ombudsman Pelayo Apostol forwarded the complaint of Iloilo journalist Manuel “Boy” Mejorada against Senate President Franklin Drilon and key officials of the Department of Public Works over alleged violations of the government procurement reform law and the anti-graft and corrupt practices act.

Apostol addressed the request to COA VI regional director Evelyn P. Reyes. A copy of the transmittal letter was furnished Mejorada as the complainant.

In his complaint, Mejorada said the DPWH Bids and Awards Committee made a mockery of R.A. 9184 which established guidelines on the conduct of public biddings for government procurement.

Mejorada said that on the face of the information he obtained from the website of the Philippine Government Electronic Procurement System (PhilGEPS) on the contract, the bidding process was “rigged” with the winning contractor submitted an offer which is only 0.12% below the approved budget for the contract.

The DPWH had set an ABC of P33,950,000 for the development of a 700-meter long embankment on the Molo side of the Iloilo river.

Roprim Construction, which had also been awarded the contract for Esplanade I, submitted a bid of P33,908,791.50, which is just P41,208.50 lower than the ABC. Mejorada said this is an incredible winning bid, as it almost hit the ABC by a hairline difference.

Mejorada said the public bidding was apparently manipulated to favor Roprim Construction, which he described as a favored contractor of Drilon. This is the same contractor that cornered the overpriced Esplanade I two years ago at a total cost of P83.5 million.

On Sept. 10, 2013, Mejorada also filed a graft case against Drilon and the DPWH BAC before the Ombudsman for the apparent ghost implementation of a P13.5 million PDAF disbursement AFTER the project was already completed and inaugurated.

Moreover, the contract price for the project is overpriced by about P20 million, he said.

In addition to these “glaring anomalies”, Mejorada said the DPWH violated the revised implementing rules and regulations of R.A. 9184 with its failure to post the notices of award and to proceed to the contractor within the prescribed number of days.

He said this was done to hide the contract from other interested bidders.

Mejorada said Drilon is being implicated in this case because he is the prime mover for the development of the project. The project was funded from the controversial Development Acceleration Program (DAP) of the Aquino administration, he said.

The Ombudsman’s request for an audit is intended to establish the veracity of Mejorada’s claim that the contract is overpriced and that the bidding was rigged.

Aside from Drilon, Mejorada included DPWH regional director Edilberto Tayao and the entire Bids and Awards Committee of the DPWH Region VI as respondents.

The complaint was filed before the Office of the Ombudsman-Visayas Iloilo field office on March 27, 2014.

 

‘Shock and awe” to disguise corruption

I woke up at 3 o’ clock a.m. I check the iPad screen, and the date glows Sept 1, 2013. Unable to go back to sleep. So many things bothering the mind. The last few days revealed disturbing facts about how corruption has devoured Iloilo. It unmasks a strategy of “shock and awe” to mesmerize an unsuspecting public with a plethora of infrastructure projects, completely aware that it is one giant delivery van for plunder. I wonder: is there hope for this nation? Will the people awaken to the truth?
What I have disclosed so far is only the tip of the iceberg. But already, I can hear remarks like, “can’t this Boy Mejorada appreciate the deluge of projects that have come our way?” In a big way, quite a number of Ilonggos will look at me as villain. The officials behind these projects are painted as heroes. Indeed, Iloilo City hasn’t experienced the kind of infrastructure development before. On the surface, we have a lot to be grateful about.
Still, there’s a gnawing question at the back of the mind: do we just cast a blind eye at the corruption and embrace the good about it? Is corruption an inevitable evil that forms part of the cost for development? Do we keep quiet over the knowledge that tens of millions, if not hundreds of millions, of pesos are being pocketed as kickbacks?
It is a lonely battle — this expedition in investigative journalism. Fear grips a lot of people and effectively shuts their mouths. Most prefer to suffer in silence. But even as I navigate this minefield, I know I am on the right path, and I will not retreat. I will not stop.

Iloilo City fries on pork lard

There’s been a bonanza of infrastructure projects in Iloilo City which give the appearance of quickened growth and development.

The Benigno Aquino Jr. Ave. (better known as Diversion Road) is being widened with uneven surfaces. As this is being written, traffic jams are a daily occurrence just before the bridge crossing to Gen. Luna and Infante Sts. as work is implemented to add one lane to it. These projects have a total budget of P350 million. The Iloilo Esplanade, with a total length of 1.2 kilometers, was developed for P70 million. Across the river is Esplanade II, with a slightly smaller budget of P45 million.

The Elliptical Road which serves as a peripheral road that connects Leganes to Oton, passing through Pavia and San Miguel, was constructed at a cost of more than a billion pesos.

Many people are impressed at the slew of projects. Indeed, at no time in the history of Iloilo City has it witnessed a cascade of roads, bridges and other infrastructure in a short period of time. Credit is given to Senator Franklin Drilon, who allocated a huge portion of his pork barrel, and exerted his clout as then chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, to make this possible.

But little is being said about the cost efficiency and rationality of the projects. Nobody has challenged the pricing despite insinuations that these are grossly overpriced. There is also the issue of whether the expansion of the Diversion Road, and the bridge, are necessary in the first place. In the light of the pork barrel scam, I think the Ombudsman should investigate the issues about overpricing, and need, for the projects.

It’s hard to understand why the Diversion Road was expanded to eight lanes. It’s just a short stretch of road, although it’s become one of the busiest thoroughfares in Iloilo City. The road widening makes no sense.  At the end of the highway going to Molo is a four-lane bridge. The current configuration of six lanes makes it a formula for congestion by the time vehicles reach the foot of the bridge. The classic bottleneck problem arises.

Now that the highway is being widened to eight lanes, DPWH decided to add one lane to the bridge to make it six lanes. The first casualty of this project are commercial buildings on the southern bank of the river, including one where PAG-IBIG is housed. Moreover, the vehicles coming off this bridge will still head into congested roadways on General Luna and Infante Sts. It doesn’t make sense.

For me, the project is a big waste of money. It is also a source of big-time graft. The money allocated for this road widening could have been put to better use to build first-class roads in key sections of the city. Iloilo City isn’t just that burgeoning business district in Barangay San Rafael, Mandurriao. In fact, the neglect in other parts of the city, including the old downtown area, is causing economic blight in much of the city. An eight-lane 3-kilometer highway serves no good purpose. It’s only an excuse for more kickbacks to its patrons.

As the nation simmers in collective anger over the pork barrel scam involving Janet Lim Napoles, our people should also start looking at infrastructure projects like the ones we’ve seen in Iloilo City. These are huge sources of corruption. We should adopt a circumspect attitude when our public officials make a spectacle of ground-breaking for projects and ask: How much do they cost?

Ilonggos just don’t realize it. The city is being fried on its own lard.