Senators yesterday slammed the National Electrification Administration (NEA) for its slow and unsatisfactory efforts to remove fallen electric posts that obstruct roads and pose safety hazards to the public.
During the NEA budget hearing, Senate minority leader Franklin Drilon, along with Senators Sherwin Gatchalian, Nancy Binay, and Imee Marcos questioned NEA’s lack of a concrete plan to rid the roads of Metro Manila and other parts of the country of electric posts that block the paths of passing vehicles.
Drilon asked the NEA to provide the Senate committee a concrete action plan and a timetable as he threatened to defer the agency’s proposed P1.81 billion budget for 2021 when it is subjected to plenary debates in November.
“This is a matter of public concern – a matter of safety and better use of public funds- because billions are poured into the widening of our road networks and, yet, these are wasted because there is no effort to remove these public hazards,” Drilon told NEA administrator Edgardo Masongsong.
Drilon chided Masongsong for not giving enough attention to the road obstructions which he said causes accidents especially at night, adding that scheming vehicle owners have even taken advantage of the fallen electric posts by converting affected roads into parking areas.
“The attention you have given to this issue is not sufficient. You are not doing enough to solve this problem that poses great inconvenience and endangers the safety of motorists.
This is a cause of headache and frustration,” he said.
The NEA said at least P4 billion is needed to remove the electric posts but only P400 million has been allocated for next year. At that rate, Drilon said it will take 10 years for NEA to be able to solve the issue.
“You look at your mandate. This is within your mandate but you take it for granted. If you could just put in a little bit of attention to this issue, the problem can be solved. This is a serious concern. I would like to see a faster and more definite program,” Drilon said.
“This is not a small matter that merits the passing attention that it gets today. It must be addressed. This is shared by my colleagues. We are not satisfied with the way things have been done,” he added.
Meanwhile Public Works Secretary Mark Villar yesterday assured senators that displaced Filipino workers will be given priority in government infrastructure projects amid calls to limit foreign workers hired in highly -technical positions.
Villar issued the commitment following calls by Senators Francis Pangilinan and Juan Edgardo Angara and Senate majority leader Juan Miguel Zubiri.
“You have my assurance that we will support this cause,” Villar told the lawmakers.
Villar likewise shared the lawmakers’ position that local products need to be prioritized in infrastructure projects funded by the government to boost the economy and create fresh jobs amid the contraction in various industries, such as manufacturing.
“I agree completely that we need to help our local industries as they create local jobs,” Villar said.
Pangilinan had asked Villar to give preference to local raw materials or materials with high local content in the government’s flagship projects to help local manufacturers rebound from the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Pangilinan also asked Villar to re-negotiate with Chinese contractors to cut their number of workers in government infrastructure projects to give Filipinos the chance to be employed amid reports that more than 20 million of our countrymen are jobless due to the effects of the community quarantine measures to contain the spread of COVID-19.
During last week’s DPWH budget hearing, Villar admitted that around 31 to 45 percent of workers employed at two government bridge projects were composed of Chinese.
“The DPWH, with its resources at its disposal, should also put emphasis on local manufacturers and local materials,” Pangilinan said.
Angara and Zubiri, for their part, echoed Pangilinan’s call, saying the move would help boost the economy and create more employment opportunities.
“Filipino first should be our first preference, particularly in the construction industry,” Zubiri said.
Pangilinan also suggested that a provision emphasizing the preference for local materials and supplies in infrastructure projects be included in the 2021 budget.
In addition, Pangilinan also called on Villar to ensure that Filipino workers are prioritized in the hiring for infrastructure projects under the 2021 budget to help address the high unemployment rate.