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Bicol roads inferior in quality - Engineer

By Manuel T. Ugalde

A distraught Bicolano engineer has made public in a long letter about the disturbing inferior road conditions in Bicol, compared in other regions that are stable and lasts longer, citing his very own Camarines Sur province, where cracks, road repair, re-blocking and asphalt overlaying abounds in just a year after completion.

The prominent civil engineer known in Naga City as Wenfredo Firme, dared to make public his observations and comments in a published long letter to the editor of the Bicol oldest surviving Bicol Mail newspaper on March 4, 2023, where he noted that roads built in Bicol appears below the standard compared in other regions, such as Mindanao, Visayas, Palawan and Northern Luzon.

Firme described the roads in other regions -- especially foreign funded and built by foreign contractors as those that don’t show any minor defects 10 to 15 years after completion, while roads in Bicol immediately shows defect in a year time after completion, citing Camarines Sur where potholes, scaling, cracks as wide as snakes abounds in just a year after completion. Bicol have 16 district engineering offices, with Camarines Sur the largest, with five congressional districts, and known as the heart of the region.

Bicol DPWH regional director Virgilio Eduarte reserve his further comment saying he was barely three years in the region after years of assignment in Visayas region.

Most Corrupt

Bicol is noted of having produced five top DPWH engineers killed during the past 20 years, which President Duterte Presidential Anti-Corruption Commission (PACC) had tagged as the most corrupt agency in the region. It was also in Bicol where reports of three government junked-declared heavy equipment got reassembled and reported as brand new, however, with surplus spare parts sourced from junk equipment which the DPWH regional office funded at P15 million. The incident was cited in a plunder case filed by a whistleblower Roberto Canezal in 2012. In his complaint, Canezal claimed he led in the reassemble of the three junked drilling equipment which the DPWH regional office in Legazpi City funded at P5 million each, the complaint said.

In a text message on June 3, 2023, Canezal lamented that the top regional officials who were implicated in the case had long retired from service undisturbed, while his fellow lowly employees implicated as accessories among the 42 respondents are still in office hoping and praying that the case be eventually dismissed. It’s just fair that the Ombudsman should dismiss the case in fairness to my fellow lowly workers, stressed by the more than 10 long years awaiting resolution of the case, said Canezal. Canezal claimed that then President Noynoy Aquino slogan of Tuwid na Daan was the only reason that motivated him to come out and exposed the equipment scandal that had been transpiring at the Masbate Area Equipment for decades at the noses of the regional office. He said a fact-finding report no less from the DPWH had corroborated my complaint.

It will be recalled that in early 2017, then PACC chairman Commodore Dante Jimenez, had tagged Bicol DPWH as most corrupt, when he accidentally met then newly appointed DPWH secretary Mark Villar at the Legazpi City Airport. During the brief encounter, Jimenez told Villar pointblank before his regional officials that Bicol DPWH was the most corrupt which he said PACC would prioritize in a probe.

Despite Duterte anti-corruption drive, however, Bicol DPWH performance rating drastically dropped to the lowest and hardly recover, to present.

For years, Camarines Sur primary national and secondary highway roads have been undergoing re-blocking, asphalt overlaying that cost travelers great inconvenience and delay, said Firme in his published letter.

A retired DPWH engineer said that roads built during the Marcos regime were considered of premium quality, compared under his successors, when lawmakers, regardless of party mates, were afforded much access in the implementation of projects backed with hefty pork barrel funds.

A source recalls cases of program of works of projects were prepared no less by contractors submitted by every congressman designated infrastructure coordinator who are contractors themselves. It was during the time of President Arroyo when three groups of local contractors in Bicol led by the Albay Professional Constructors Association petitioned Malacanang to place under thorough probe the unending plunder of public works funds in Bicol tagged as a haven of what was known as “insider contractors,” to include even casual or contractual workers identified with lawmakers.

It was also in Bicol that local publications containing lists of projects up for bidding were not circulated, however, paid by the DPWH with extra pay in collaboration with the DPWH-lawmakers identified contractors.

Information gathered showed that DPWH Bicol has recorded five top engineers killed that transpired since the Cory administration. They were regional director Nestor Jake Tria (Estrada administration), Camarines Sur asst. district engineer Floriano Sarmiento (Cory Aquino administration), regional director Danilo Manalang (Pnoy administration), and Engineer Faustino Celebrado, chief of the Camarines Sur district engineering Road Right of Way (Cory administration), and district engineer Ramon Aquino. Sarmiento was killed early morning right in his office by two gunmen at the height of his expose surrounding the controversy of the DPWH Community Employment Development Program (CEDP) projects following devastation wrought by Typhoon Sisang in 1988.

On the other hand, Manalang was murdered a year following his retirement from service. He was the regional director who exposed in a press conference about a P19 million in possession of an Albay-based district engineer who reported to the NBI the money was allegedly stolen from his drawer. Manalang told the media that a day before the said P19 million cash was reported missing allegedly due to burglary, he had signed a voucher for P19 million payable to a dummy contractor of said district engineer, who delivered the cash to the district engineer at his office, explaining the reported burglary was a mere cover-up to evade sharing the loot to his partners in crime.

Recently retired DPWH Bicol legal officer confirmed the lists of the murdered DPWH officials.

Before his assassination in 2002, Tria told the media that pork barrel system was a strong source of kickback that even regular funds were not spared. Tria was killed by a lone gunman at the Pili Airport in Camarines Sur.

Ghost dredging projects

It will be recalled that then Albay Gov. Fernando Gonzales (2004 – 2007) made a controversial challenge to the DPWH when his office began constructing roads at a cost of 5 to 6 million against the DPWH P10 to 12 million, boasting same quality. Joining the Diocese of Legazpi fight against dredging and flood control plunder, the governor even dared exposing the billions funded Mayon dredging project allegedly for having an accomplishment of only 20 percent. Yes, 20 percent output only, Gonzales told then visiting Tourism Secretary Dick Gordon.

With the Diocese of Legazpi strong resistance against dredging projects that catapulted to a series of protest rally right in front the DPWH regional office in Legazpi City, the DPWH eventually suspended funding and implementation of dredging projects.


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