LEGAZPI CITY --- Chances for Bicolano officials to clinch the top regional post of the controversial and scandal-ridden Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) Bicol regional office have remain elusive as record showed that since 2010, six non-Bicolanos officials have been successively appointed and occupied the position of regional director.
DPWH Bicol is remembered for having been included in the department’s Hall of Fame as top performer in terms of overall performance twice under the stewardship of two Bicolano regional directors.
The mandatory retirement this March 2020 of Engr. Walter Lubiano, DPWH Bicol assistant director, has rendered nil the chances of a Bicolano DPWH official to be appointed as regional director.
A former Masbate district engineer, who was promoted assistant regional director only in January this year, Lubiano’s name stood out among the three highly qualified DPWH Bicolano executives who are aspiring for the top Bicol post.
Last February, however, DPWH Sec. Mark Villar surprised the officials and employees of the department in the region, when he appointed his aide, Melvin Navarro, to succeed Dir. Virgilio Eduarte, who was suspended by the Ombudsman.
To recall, on Jan. 13, 2017, Villar and Presidential Anti-Corruption Commission chair Dante Jimenez accidentally met at the Legazpi City Airport. During their brief encounter, Jimenez reportedly told Villar that DPWH Bicol was ridden with corruption. On Feb, 23 of the same year, Villar sacked then regional director Reynaldo Tagudando, asst. regional director Armando Estrella, and legal officer Oliver Rodulfo.
Amid recent graft and corruption scandals haunting DPWH Bicol, known as haven of “insider-contractors,” nowhere in its record indicated that it was bestowed the top performing award except under two Bicolano regional directors namely, Jose Bobiles (1979-1981) of Catanduanes and Orlando Roces of Albay, who retired from service in late 2009.
Roces was succeeded briefly by regional director Danilo Manalang who was ousted by President Noynoy Aquino in 2010 for being a non Career Executive Service Office eligible. He was succeeded by Danilo Dequito, said to be a protegee of the sister of then President Benigno Noynoy Aquino.
Three years after he was booted out from DPWH, Manalang was murdered in his hometown in Pampanga, a fate that added to the three cases of Bicolano executives who were killed while in the performance of their duties.
Director Nestor Tria was killed at the Pili Airport in Camarines Sur, asst. district engineer Floriano Sarmiento was shot to death right inside his office, and Road Right-of-Way head Pedro Cerebrado was also killed while on field work.
Navarro was Bicol regional director from 2013 to 2015. He succeeded Dequito (2010 – 2013), the latter having been charged before the Ombudsman over equipment parts scandal in Masbate.
Succeeding Navarro were Reynaldo Tagudando, Danilo Versola, and Eduarte. DPWH insiders accused all the non-Bicolano executives assigned in Bicol of seldom reporting for work from Mondays to Fridays. One of them was even accused of reporting to office only during Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, being a Davao City resident.
Navarro’s return to Bicol came after the Ombudsman order Villar to implement the Feb. 2, 2019 unenforced suspension order for Eduarte, who was accused of graft and corruption in 2016 during his stint in Region 8 as assistant regional director.
In August 2018, Villar appointed Eduarte as Bicol regional director.
In an interview, retired assistant regional director Oscar Cristobal of Legazpi City, claimed that during his stint with Roces, DPWH Bicol had always been on the top 5 performing regions.
Asked about the DPWH relationship with the local media during their stint, Cristobal said the media was as usual critical against DPWH on issue of corruption, but said it helped a lot to improve their performance saying a press conference was open and journalists were free to interview anyone.
Still reeling from the agony as a graft-ridden agency rocked by promotions and rigged-bidding scandals, a boiling controversy hit the regional office last year when a shouting match ensued during the Aug. 8 DPWH executives and contractors meeting, with the latter accusing officials as behind the region’s low performance, thus the label from Hall of Fame to the Hall of Shame.