'Malampaya-funded projects overpriced, substandard'
MANILA, Philippines - Despite varying in length and other features, some 21 roads and bridges in Palawan funded through proceeds from the Malampaya natural gas project were each built using equal amounts, a nongovernment organization told a Senate committee on Thursday.
The allotment for a 100-meter road, for instance, was P18 million, the same amount allocated for other projects ranging from 5 to 6 kilometers, according to an investigation by Kaakbay party-list group.
"There is overpricing, gross overpricing, and very significant losses," Prof. Leonor Magtolis-Briones, chairperson of Kaakbay, said during the Blue Ribbon Committee's second hearing on alleged anomalies in the use of Malampaya royalties.
Mario Soriano, a member of the bids and awards committee of Palawan's 2nd district, explained that the allocation was based on the amount required for each project.
Secretary Rogelio Singson of the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) noted, however, that the amounts were allocated even before there were detailed plans for the projects.
"That obviously is the wrong process," he said. "That's not the way to build a road."
Singson added that the DPWH is now very strict in releasing amounts for infrastructure projects. "There is no disbursement without a detailed program of work. Nauuna dapat ang program of work before you can get any SARO (special allotment release order)," he said.
Aside from being overpriced, the projects were also substandard, Briones said.
Briones, a former national treasurer, cited as one example the Yabungan Bridge in Quezon town. She said the concrete used for building the bridge was of poor quality and its banks are already eroded, posing dangers to vehicles and people passing by.
Briones said it appears the bridge did not follow the approved specifications, if there was any at all.
"If there were realignments or change in the designs, there were no available records on approved realignments of design," she added.
Sen. Teofisto Guingona III, chair of the Blue Ribbon Committee, said there was a clear misuse of public funds and that officials must be held liable.
Noting various anomalies, the Commission on Audit has already filed cases before the Ombudsman against the officials involved.
In the previous hearing, the COA said it has also ordered the implementing agencies of Malampaya-funded projects-the provincial government of Palawan, city government of Puerto Princesa, and the DPWH district office-to return some P3.9 billion spent for 355 projects that were found to have violated certain standards.
"Talagang klaro na pinaglaruan ang pondong ito," Guingona told reporters after Thursday's hearing.
The next hearing will delve into how former Palawan Gov. Joel Reyes, who allegedly masterminded the killing of environment advocate Gerry Ortega, was able to evade authorities and go into hiding.
Ortega's family and supporters believe his vocal stance against the misuse of Malampaya funds was the reason he was gunned down in 2011.
His wife, Patty Ortega, said she remains steadfast in calling for justice for her husband.
"Matagal na pong ipinaglalaban ni Doc Gerry ang share ng Malampaya para sa Palawan at hindi para sa mga pulitiko," she said after the hearing. "Importante po na hindi tayo titigil dahil may isang pinatay. Dapat matigil na ang patayan. Dapat matigil na ang korupsyon lalo na sa aming bayan."