Dredging projects in Bicol resume

By Manuel T. Ugalde


More than a decade since the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) suspended all dredging projects in the Bicol region, the graft-tainted flood control projects are back and have resumed operation particularly in Albay where dredging of heavy silted rivers is the only option available to avoid flooding of ricelands and communities.


Albay 1st District Engineer Rainiro Zerda, however, said the dredging of rivers in his district, which covers six towns and a city, is being implemented by the DPWH Regional Equipment Management Division, using its own equipment and personnel in the actual dredging works.


Zerda, dubbed the new dredging scheme as “Build Back Better,” which only deepen the river, with the excavated gravel and sand dumped on the river banks. He said the local government units (LGUs) are in charge of the removal of the dredged materials, which are given for free to other government offices that need the same.


The DPWH official said that Rep. Edcel Lagman expressed concern about the silted rivers that during cause floods during heavy rains damaging farms and villages.


According to Zerda, only four rivers in the province first district are covered by the Build Back Better dredging scheme. These are the Tiagao River in Malilipot town, San Jose River of Bacacay town, Telegrapo of Sto. Domingo town, and the Bulawan and Bantayan Rivers in Tabaco City. Overall, 14 rivers are subject to dredging in the three Albay districts, according to records at the Regional Equipment Management Division


To recall, the suspension of dredging projects in the region was upon the initiative of the Diocese of Legaspi. In one occasion, the diocese led a protest rally in front the DPWH regional office in Legazpi City sometime in late 2008. Then Diocese Auxiliary Bishop Lucilo Quiambao led the protesters. They denounced the dredging projects in Albay as extremely corrupt and did not serve their purpose as flood control structures.


The protest rally of the Diocese of Legazpi backed by Gov. Gonzales, prompted other provinces in the region to also seek the suspensions of dredging projects in Masbate, Catanduanes, Sorsogon, Camarines Sur, and Camarines Norte. Because of the massive public pressure, the DPWH suspended the projects.


In 2006, then Albay Gov. Fernando Gonzales exposed the P2 billion Mayon dredging project as laden with corruption. He said that his provincial engineering office found that only 20 percent of the DPWH Mayon dredging contracts were actually completed.


Meanwhile, Albay Gov. Noel Rosal said he is not against the resumption of the dredging of major rivers, however, he warned the DPWH to do it corruption-free.