Whistleblower in P150M DPWH scandal fears losing battle vs graft

By Manuel T. Ugalde LEGAZPI CITY ---- A whistleblower who braved threats, intimidation and three suspension orders, including temporary imprisonment is now expressing regret for choosing to blow the whistle on at least 42 officials and employees of the Department of Public Works and Highways whom he accused of plunder involving P150M worth of construction equipment and parts but which case remains unresolved for six years now. Equipment operator Robert Cañezal, 52, of the Masbate Equipment Area Service lamented that close to two dozens of DPWH señor regional executives and employees implicated in the case had already retired from the service even as fellow employees continue to ridicule him for allegedly turning down generous offers of cash in exchange for withdrawal of his case. The plunder case against 42 top officials and employees of the DPWH regional office, Regional Equipment Service and Masbate Area Equipment Service was initially filed by Cañezal before the Office of the Ombudsman on Feb. 11, 2012. This was, however, amended by a final complaint filed on June 18, 2012, two months after the regional office bid out the allegedly cannibalized and chopped equipment on March 20, 2012. And in less than two weeks, the subject various equipment declared as junk were rushed out of Masbate by the winning junk trader who was identified in related documents as a trader from Pampanga, according to Cañezal. Cañezal said those equipment would have served as physical evidence as pointed out in the 18-page investigation report sanctioned no less by the regional office in 2010 which covered a decade of controversial cases. Cañezal admitted in the complaint he was a party to the scandal as the lone equipment operator where he also served as collector of sums of money for undocumented leased equipment to private contractors. According to Cañezal, he was issued his 2nd and 3rd suspension orders for his complicity in the scandal but such orders were allegedly concealed in an effort to force him to withdraw the case he had filed, especially against a regional director who had since been reassigned in another region in 2013. (The first suspension order was served to him in 2011 for another case). The two suspension orders against him for 60 days each, Cañezal said, surfaced only under the Duterte administration and served in November 2016 and February 2017, respectively. In an interview, Cañezal said he suffered so much threat and harassment but kept his faith thinking that the Aquino administration then was sincere in its campaign against graft and his fight would be supported. “But my efforts to be included in the witness protection program was not even given merit,” Cañezal lamented. In his complaint, Cañezal mentioned about the disposal by an engineer at the Masbate Area Service of backhoe, grader and two dump trucks declared no longer operational to a Masbate district engineer who had them repaired and repainted from DPWH official orange color to yellow. Cañezal in his complaint said the bulk of equipment stored in Masbate equipment service area was estimated at 140 tons. But these, he said, were declared to be weighing only a total of 47.5 tons during a bidding reportedly held at the regional office on March 20, 2012. What was even worse, he said, was that the regional office also lumped in the rigged bidding the small quantity of junks from the area equipment service offices in Catanduanes, Camarines Norte and Sorsogon, that altogether cost only a little over P800,000 after the bidding. The complaint also claims that at least 3 drilling machine procurements at P5M each did not have actual delivery but were merely repaired units using junk-declared drilling machines and available old spare parts but put on record as the subject of the procurement allegedly paid by the regional office in connivance with the Masbate Area Equipment and Regional Equipment officials, COA, and DPWH regional office. After more than 6 years that he filed the plunder case, Cañezal said he begins to feel less interested in pursuing the case as more than half of those he implicated, including the higher officers, have already retired from the service. “It doesn’t matter anymore to me if the case would be dismissed or left pending resolution indefinitely because I am already tired following up the case.