Reshuffled district engr. welcomes reassignment

By Manuel T. Ugalde

LEGAZPI CTY --- He was appointed district engineer in Albay four years ago in 2016 after almost two years in floating assignment at the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) regional office in Legazpi following his relief as district engineer at the Camarines Norte District Engineering Office (DEO), which covers two congressional districts.

But Albay 1st district engineer (DE) Simon Arias who was among the seven DEs in Bicol affected by the sudden rigodon in the region signed by Secretary Mark Villar on Jan. 18, demonstrated instead a sigh of relief -- as if it was an answered prayer to be relieved from his present assignment, which he had been dreaming for the past 2 years.

Arias was appointed DE in 2011 with Camarines Norte as his first assignment. His four years stint at the Albay 1st DEO sustained its record as a model DEO with his relationship with Rep. Edcel Lagman. His performance also made his DEO reaped the award for its top performance on the regional level.

In an interview three days after receiving his reassignment order for the i Masbate 2nd DEO, Arias in a festive mode reiterated his long standing wish since 2018 to be reassigned anywhere even in remotest district, which he said has finally been realized. He did not elaborate why he wanted to be out of his district, where he sought and found comfortable from the beginning.

During his assignment in Camarines Norte, Arias was sacked by then DPWH Sec. Rogelio Singson based on the issue of corruption in bidding and project implementation, which he vehemently denied. He was reassigned to the regional office, backed to his former assignment as deputy chief of the Quality Control office. In 2016 he took over the position of Albay 1st DE Teodoro Castillo.

In 2017, Arias’ office figured in a controversy over the proposed Mayon Circumferential road project exposed in the social media by the Save Mayon Movement as a P7-billion project, which the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) found to be inside the Mayon Permanent Danger Zone and had encroached on the Mayon Protected Area according to its report in October 2017.

The Report also had it that the project did not have the Environmental Clearance Certificate and permit to cut trees. This was followed by a Cease and Desist Order issued by the DENR against the DPWH 1st DEO. The proposed Mayon road project also did not passed through the Regional Development Council, according to the provincial board.

In an exclusive interview with this writer in October 2017, he said the road projects covered by a P120 million budget was a mere farm to market roads as he feigned innocence over allegations of the P7- billion proposed Mayon Circumferential Road. In December 2017, the Sanguniang Panlalawigan condemned the Mayon road projects in a unanimously approved resolution that banned future road project around Mayon.

The project which had four initiated road opening spanning the villages of Bacacay – Malilipot towns and Tabaco City of the Albay first district was started in June 2017, according to Arias.

In 2018, Albay 1st DEO was denied release of its P3 billion budget under the General Appropriation Act with the embattled Arias facing the year without funds to pay close to 200 job order and emergency hired workers.

Arias woes became complicated when contractors began threatening him over non payment of projects allegedly implemented mid-part of 2017. Arias admitted they conducted bidding of projects in 2017 for the 2018 GAA covered projects’ advanced implementation, which however was at the behest and risk of contractors in view of the absence of official fund release and approved contract under the 2018 GAA.

The 2018 P3-billion GAA for Albay was cancelled by Malacanang in lieu of Congressman Lagman’s decisive attack against the Duterte administration over alleged human rights abuses.

Faced by the monstrous scandal, Arias asked for his relief as Albay 1st DE saying he would accept assignment anywhere in the Philippines. In addition, Arias had also indicated interest for the assistant regional director post occupied by assistant regional director Esmeraldo Sarmiento, who is described by district engineers and regional staff as highly competent with unblemished reputation. Arias was considered among the three qualified district engineers who aspired for the ARD post since 2018.

With the controversy surrounding Arias district, then Volunteers Against Crime and Corruption (VACC) founding chairman Dante Jimenez informed Sec. Mark Villar in Legazpi in February 2017 that the DPWH as the most corrupt agency in Bicol.

Appointed chair of the Presidential Anti Corruption Commission (PACC) in 2019, Jimenez claimed his office will start probe in Region V, specifically citing the Mayon circumferential road scandal.

Surprisingly in 2019, while Bicol region dipped to the lowest in performance rating among the 17 regional offices, Albay 1st DEO under Arias, garnered the top performance rating on the regional level besting 14 district engineering and the regional office.

With all the scandals faced by the Albay 1st DEO during the past four years, Arias miraculously survived the ordeal with no administrative or criminal cases filed against him.