LEGAZPI CITY --- The former spokesman of the Department of Public Works and Highway (DPWH) Bicol regional office here has questioned the P138.9 million payment made by the agency for unfinished projects involving the construction and improvemen of access road including excavation works.
In a two-page letter complaint dated July 15 sent to DPWH Sec. Mark Villar, the letter writer, Romeo Esplana, ex-DPWH Bicol spokesman, described the latest scandal at the regional office here as unprecedented.
Esplana alleged that the contracts were paid during the months of March, April and May, even as the region was under the Luzon-wide enhance community quarantine (ECQ) due to the deadly COVID-19 pandemic, when all public work projects were temporarily suspended.
Esplana’s letter cited the P138,954,821.49 payment made by the DPWH Bicol regional office to RKX Construction under Contract ID 18F00116 – Convergence and Special Program Construction Improvement of Access Road in Pasacao, Camarines Sur.
The contract include item 102 – Surplus Excavation costing P50 million, which is believed to be a ghost item, Esplana’s complaint said.
When contacted via text message for interview on the matter, Engr. Melvin Navarro, DPWH Bicol regional director, replied that he was on quarantine. Asked if he can be interviewed by phone, Navarro did not reply. His information officer, Lucy Castaneda, also refused to comment on Esplana’s complaint.
Elanor Areola, DPWH Bicol’s Construction Division chief, however, texted that the payment for the RKX claims was justified as it covered RKX work accomplishment during the month of September 2019. She, however, could not remember the percentage of works accomplished by the contractor.
According to Esplana’s letter, it was impossible for the DPWH to conduct inspection and validation of projects accomplishments if there are any during the month of March, April and May because of the lockdown as a result of the imposition of ECQ in the region.
Esplana cannot be reached for comment as he did not reply to text messages sent to the cellphone number written on his letter complaint.
But DPWH legal officer Oliver Rodulfo confirmed that the letter complaint was written by Esplana, his former road-right-of-way agent, who already retired from the service in July this year.
Meanwhile, a DPWH whistleblower in the multi-million plunder charge filed against 42 public works officials and employees, said he is planning to retire next year as corruptions in DPWH continue to haunt him even as amidst the Covid-19 pandemic.
A DPWH employee for more than 30 years, Roberto Canezal, in 2010, blew the whistle against his co-employees whom he accused of corruption involving heavy equipment and spare parts.
His expose’ resulted in the filing of P150 million plunder case against 42 DPWH regional officials and employees in 2013.
He lamented that after almost eight years since then, the Office of the Ombudsman has yet to resolve the case even as dozens of officials implicated in the anolamlies had already retired from service.
The whistleblower said he is no longer interested in the outcome of the case, He urged the Ombudsman to decide on the plunder case so that those officials and employees who are still in the service will have peace of mind, especially those who are innocent.
To recall, the plunder case stated that Canezal himself admitted direct involvement in the irregularities such as acting as collector of the misappropriated equipment rental, and the assembly of equipment using unused and old equipment parts from old and junk equipment.
The assembled equipment were used as a cover for the very equipment purchased and paid by the regional office.
Canesal recalled that when he filed the plunder complaint against the 42 officials, he faced threats to his life and that he resisted offers of money in exchange for withdrawing the case.
He said the offer was made in 2015 by a DPWH lawyer who was connected with the Office of the DPWH secretary.
He said that during the first three years of the filing of the plunder complaint, he was suspended thrice on fabricated charges, one of them for simply refusing to conform with the demand of the regional director and his legal officer to stop exposing DPWH scandals during a confrontation at the DPWH regional office.
In 2019, Canezal said he was reassigned from Masbate to Naga City for six months by Director Eduarte because of his continued crusade against corruptions in the DPWH.
Canezal, who is 55 years old, said that he plans to retire next year so that he would be free to expose corrupt practices in DPWH.
He also called for an investigation of the 15 districts engineering offices in the region in relation to Esplana’s complaint.