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Political pressure drives DPWH engrs away from ‘Happy Island’

By Manuel T. Ugalde


ONCE a favorite assignment for district engineers, Catanduanes province is now being avoided by many due to political pressures. The shift came after public works and highways secretary Manuel Bonoan sacked the district engineers of Masbate and Catanduanes provinces, reportedly due to political interference.


Catanduanes, a first-class congressional district with 11 towns, was previously a sought-after assignment for public works engineers due to substantial funding under the General Appropriation Act.


In the May 2022 midterm election, former Bato town mayor Leo Rodriguez won a landslide victory as congressman, credited to his exemplary performance as mayor. Rodriguez, a former contractor in Manila, allegedly initiated the removal of non-performing and politically motivated public works personnel.


Regional Director Virgilio Eduarte confirmed the simultaneous reassignment of Masbate 2nd District Engineer Simon Arias and Catanduanes district engineer Dennis Cabongoc. Arias, from Albay, and Cabongoc, from Samar, have swapped posts, with Arias now in Catanduanes and Cabongoc in the Masbate 2nd District Engineering Office.


The two district engineers were among the initially reported seven out of 16 Bicol district engineers accused of manipulating the office biometric machine to evade the mandatory 8-hour workday.


Reports indicate that Cabongoc took a leave of absence from his office in early May due to political pressures, leading to the swap with Arias. Cabongoc was also accused of rigging contract bids, according to lawyer Oliver Rodolfo, former Bicol DPWH legal officer.


DPWH records show that Catanduanes has seen four district engineers appointed in the two years following the 2022 election. Rodolfo described the frequent changes as extremely political, starting after the May 2022 election. District Engineer Gil Balmadrid, a Catanduanes native, was the first to be relieved post-election and is now awaiting retirement. Other staff members, including maintenance chief Boyet Tabuso, Quality Control chief Pedro Ceferino Guerrero, and assistant district engineer Noland Guerrero, have also faced relief orders.


Guerrero’s reassignment to the Legazpi regional office was contested before the Civil Service, which ordered his return to Catanduanes.


Shortly after the May 2022 election, district engineer Balmadrid was relieved, reportedly at the congressman’s behest, followed by assistant district engineer Noland Guerrero. Secretary Bonoan then appointed Camarines Sur-based district engineer Ferdinand Joven to Catanduanes, who was sacked eight months later and replaced by Cabongoc. Cabongoc later took an extended leave, leading to the recent swap with Arias.


Arias, initially assigned as district engineer in Camarines Norte in 2013, has since moved through various posts, including Albay and Masbate. His latest reassignment to Catanduanes is seen as a temporary stint, with a promised promotion to assistant regional director in another region.

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