SEN. Panfilo Lacson, who has spent much of his legislative work fighting the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) or “pork barrel,” even before the Supreme Court declared parts of this scheme illegal, minced no words recently in explaining why there is massive corruption in the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH), the executive department’s infrastructure and construction arm.
According to Senator Lacson, if you are looking for deep roots of corruption in the infrastructure agency, you might as well train your sights not at Port Area in Manila but at the Batasang Pambansa in Quezon City. The senator said congressmen, meaning representatives, are badgering whoever is the DPWH secretary to give priority funding to their pet projects in their districts and the secretary and his subordinates could seldom say “No” because these congresspersons are powerful officials who can make their lives difficult.
‘Duterte need not wonder why Secretary Villar… is unable to stem the tide of corruption which exists in a grand scale in his department.’
President Duterte himself pointed out the pernicious graft and corruption problem in the DPWH, but he did not furnish us with an explanation like Lacson did. The senator said a number of congressmen have been throwing their weight on Villar for their districts’ inclusion in the DPWH’s list of priority projects and for funding “insertions” in the General Appropriations Act or the national budget bill.
Lacson raises the question: “Can the DPWH secretary (Mark Villar at the present time) stand up to the pressure exerted on him by the congressmen? As we already know, the answer is obviously no. And no matter how the secretary denies it, nobody is ready to believe him. We also know that is the root cause of corruption.”
The DPWH secretary, according to the senator, has the power to cleanse the department of misfits and undesirables; he can always kick out any of his men who are involved in illegal activities as he has the full authority to assign men under his department, unless he delegates it to his regional directors.
Lacson noted, too, that it is an open secret that congressmen, on many occasions, use their influence to have their favorite district engineers to be assigned to their districts so they can have full control in the implementation of their chosen projects, mostly funded by the insertions made in the budget measure.
The people are the ultimate losers here, as infrastructure projects end up being constructed poorly, the materials used are of inferior quality, and the budget hugely skimmed. The bulk of the funds does not go to the projects, but are split to line the pockets of contractors, engineers and politicians.
The country’s political and electoral system explains why representatives have the need to dance within this indelicate setup. The congressman needs to deliver some physical, palpable and visually satisfying “accomplishments” to his constituents in the district. He also needs plenty of money for dole-outs and election expenses. This is why the vicious cycle persists, taking on a permanent character as the decades roll on.
Duterte need not wonder why Secretary Villar, whom he described as very rich and therefore can be relied upon not to steal, is unable to stem the tide of corruption which exists in a grand scale in his department.