Due to Corruption Issues Also: DPWH office relocating to address congestion
By Manuel T. Ugalde
LEGAZPI CITY --- The Bicol Public Works and Highways office, previously tagged by the Presidential Anti-Corruption Commission for graft, is scheduled to relocate on November 27, 2023, barring unforeseen circumstances.
The current office location at the extensive Regional Center in Barangay Rawis has caused tensions among employees of other agencies, particularly during DPWH sports festivals, leading to road congestion with private and official vehicles belonging to DPWH workers.
Former DPWH Bicol legal officer, Oliver Rodulfo, confirmed the issue of DPWH vehicles congesting the regional center, exacerbated by the influx of private vehicles owned by job order employees, contractual workers, and emergency hirees. Rodulfo, who retired three years ago, had previously suggested the prohibition of private vehicles inside the 6000-square-meter DPWH premises, both from workers and casual employees, as a means to improve the department’s reputation tarnished by allegations of corruption.
Situated along the national road near the University of Sto. Thomas, next to the Yawa River, the site has long been notorious for alleged corruption, particularly in dredging and flood control projects funded by the DPWH and lawmakers, which reportedly achieved only a meager 20 percent completion rate.
During the tenure of Governor Fernando Gonzales, amid the failed P2 billion Mayon Dredging project, prominent figures like Orchard Gordon openly criticized DPWH, asserting that only 20 percent of the project had been completed.
The controversial Yawa River was a focal point of dredging projects that drew the ire of the Diocese of Legazpi. The P2 billion Mayon Dredging project’s failure to control lahar flow in dredged rivers resulted in the deaths of nearly 2000 Albay residents during Typhoon Reming in 2007. In response, the Diocese of Legazpi organized a protest rally in front of the contentious DPWH regional office, joined by students from the University of Sto. Thomas.
Among the casualties during Typhoon Reming, more than 200 residents and student boarders living near the DPWH regional office, including the nearby Padang River, lost their lives. The protest rally, led by then-auxiliary Bishop Luciolo Quiambao, received support from Governor Fernando Gonzales and Legazpi City Mayor Noel Rosal. Gonzales publicly criticized DPWH for its poorly executed dredging projects, accusing the department of achieving only a 20 percent output on its 2 billion dredging contract.
The DPWH regional office, situated in the sprawling Regional Center in Barangay Rawis, can no longer accommodate the vehicles of officials and employees, compounded by the proliferation of private vehicles owned by contractual, job order, and emergency-hired workers, which is one of the reasons behind the planned relocation.
“Maganda na rin makalapit ang office naming sa loob ng Regional Equipment Service, at least hindi ito makikita sa kalsada dahil sa isyu ng korupsiyon,” Rodulfo said. He expressed concern that when people learn that someone works for DPWH, it raises questions about their income without elaborating.
Contractors have blamed the congestion on the barely 6000-square-meter premises on the private service vehicles of casual workers, leaving the transacting public searching for available parking spaces at the regional center, further tarnishing DPWH’s image.
Regional Director Virgilio Eduarte confirmed the office’s transfer to the larger Regional Equipment Service compound at the Legazpi Airport site, where there is ample parking for the transacting public.
Lawyer Oliver Rodulfo, now retired, confirmed the dire situation at the current DPWH regional office and reiterated his proposal to ban the service vehicles of all casual workers. He recalled instances during his tenure when the regional center’s roadsides were filled with luxury private vehicles owned by DPWH workers during the annual sports festival. He mentioned a Regional Trial Court judge who spotted a Lady Engineer with the rank of Engineer 2 at the Albay 1st District Engineering office, driving a new luxury Fortuner vehicle parked at the Hall of Justice roadside.
For decades, the Bicol DPWH has faced allegations of extreme corruption, earning it the dubious distinction of being one of the most corrupt agencies during the Duterte administration. It has been accused of harboring “insider-contractors” who are connected to top officials, from high-ranking officials to casual workers. Local contractors claim that certain top regional officials have devised a scheme to secure projects from lawmakers, offering high kickback rates, including shares for auditors from the Commission on Audit and the Inspectorate. This practice is said to have permeated all 16 district engineering offices. A source revealed that a retired regional-based engineer acquired a prime lot near the SM City Legazpi during his tenure and now uses it as his equipment pool. Reportedly, a businessman offered to buy the prime lot for P150 M.