Mountain Province governor blames implementors : WB freezes loans for Halsema road projects over 'anomalies'
>> Friday, November 30, 2007
BY DEXTER A SEE AND BERLIN MCINTOSH
BAGUIO CITY -- The World Bank has suspended release of $ 232-million loan to the Philippine government for implementation of the remaining two phases of the controversial Halsema Road rehabilitation project following reports of irregularities and anomalies in its implementation.
This, after President Macapagal Arroyo was urged last week by provincial constituents to personally inspect and initiate dismissal proceedings against regional and provincial Highways officials involved in the implementation of the “anomalous” P600 million Mt. Data-Bontoc Road project.
The action of the President on the matter was not known on the matter as of press time, but last week, the country’s top executive was urged to suspend top regional and provincial Dept. of Public Works and Highways officials involved in the alleged scam.
The two phases of the project were affected by the suspension of the loan were the P1.3-billion Mt. Data-to-Bontoc section and the P780-million Bontoc-to-Banaue section of the 170-kilometer road that stretches from Baguio City to Banaue, Ifugao passing through Benguet and Mountain Province.
The loan was intended to fund road-improvement projects undertaken under the National Road Improvement Project of the Arroyo administration.
Engineer Mariano Alquiza, regional director of the Department of Public Works and Highways in the Cordillera, said the suspension of the loan was unfortunate, adding Cordillera was supposed to be a primary beneficiary of the loan package.
He said it was unfair for the WB to make a conclusion on the existence of corruption in the bidding and implementation of vital infrastructure projects without the conduct of an extensive fact-finding to verify allegations.
But Alquiza said despite the setback caused the suspension of the WB loan, the implementation of the projects would be pursued because these were intended to boost economic development in rural areas.
Alquiza said the suspension of the WB loan prompted President Arroyo to tap local funds for implementation of the projects which would improve accessibility to top tourist spots in the region such as the Sagada Caves in Mountain Province and the Ifugao Rice Terraces in Banaue.
The DPWH has already programmed the completion of rehabilitation work on the Halsema Highway in 2008 and 2009 as set by the President.
“If there are delays in the projects due to unavoidable circumstances,” Alquiza said, “the project could be completed in 2010 before the President steps down from office at the end of her term.”
For 2008, the DPWH has allotted at least P734 million for the Halsema Highway projects. The national government has spent a little over P340 million for the initial civil works of the projects in preparation for the concreting work.
In Bontoc, Mountain Province, Gov. Maximo Dalog “It is no longer the fault of the President if the road is not as what it is expected to be and it is not the failure of the President of the pressing issues surrounding the but the implementors.
Dalog said this before the employees and heads of government agencies last week in a flag ceremony saying no one but only the President should be commended for pursuing the road project.
“We commend the president in the release of fund that is intended for the unfinished roads but that implementors should be responsible so that no more additional controversies will come out,” the governor added.
Dalog said if Mt. Province roads would be improved, it could boost development and business not only in the province but the region.
Earlier this month, the governor wrote a letter to Alquiza and DPWH district engineer Leonardo Leyaley to “institute measures to improve the conditions of the Mt. Data-Bontoc and Bontoc-Banaue roads.”
The governor here was moved to write the DPWH after receiving complaints among motorists and commuters that the road project was irregular and traversing the highway had become dangerous due to substandard implementation of the projects.
Observers said concentration of the work was more on the concreting of one side of the road while disregarding the other side mostly used by heavy vehicles.
The Mt. Data-Bontoc section is allotted more than a billion pesos for widening and concreting works.