POSTSCRIPT / February 10, 2009 / Tuesday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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GMA silence on WB scandal is ill-advised

SILENT WORKER: President Gloria Arroyo has been overly tight-lipped on reports attributed to the World Bank that her husband Mike was supposed to receive commissions from rigged WB-assisted public works projects.

The President has left it to minor officials to throw harmless remarks on the payola scandal now reverberating around the world. She should show a little more concern — and act!

Her husband is playing the “Prove it!” card. Clutching his chest, he has sent his lawyers to parry accusations with legal discourse on hearsay, due process and presumption of innocence.

Do the Arroyos believe they can weather the storm by burying their conjugal head in the sand?

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IF INNOCENT: The stage is actually set for the President and her dear husband to come out fighting and redeeming their name — IF he is indeed clean and she is not covering up for him. 

It is assumed that President Arroyo already has a copy of the World Bank report on the rigging of public works biddings and the payoff to influential individuals expediting contracts.

She is presumed to know the score, more or less. Then, why is she unable or unwilling to say anything? Why is she afraid to lift the lid off the WB box?

She has no reason to be afraid, IF her husband Mike is innocent.

In fact, the prominent mention of her husband has given her a golden opportunity to strike a blow on top-level corruption by sending some crooks to jail while dramatizing Mike’s innocence.

The longer President Arroyo pretends to be unperturbed, the deeper she and her husband will sink in the perception game.

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SAMAR CRATERS: Among the things that greet visitors to Eastern Samar are the badly rutted national roads. The craters on the highway have become an embarrassment for Estehanons.

Thus, any news about road projects of the Department of Public Works and Highways being started or completed gives residents some assurance of better living.

But reports show that the roads there remain in bad shape despite the heavy infusion of national funds through the DPWH regular budget, the Priority Development Assistance Fund and congressional allocations.

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AUDIT NEEDED: Estehanons have been so pissed off that over a thousand of them have signed a petition calling on government to fix their decrepit national roads.

Among the projects under scrutiny are the Pinamitinan-Balangiga-Parina section of the Lawaa-Giporlos rational road, Buenavista-Guiuan road, the Taft-Dolores-San Eduardo section of the Junction-Taft Oras road, the Parina-Quinapondan section of the Giporlos-Junction Buenavista national road, Camp 5-Taft national road, and the Borongan-Llorente road.

Curiously, all those roads had been allotted P4.67 million EACH through the 2007 Priority Development Assistance Fund of congressman Teodulo Coquilla. Estehanons are asking where all that money went.

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PORK BARREL: These PDAF projects (read: pork barrel) total P32.724 million. Aside from that, there are P350.62 million worth of road projects for Samar funded by DPWH allocations for 2007 and 2008.

Estehanons are riled by reports that some P16 million of the DPWH budget for road maintenance in Eastern Samar have been diverted to such things as the payroll of the staff of the congressional district office.

It is not only the residents who have been complaining. Commuters, motorists, traders and transport operators grumble that they have been incurring heavy losses as a result of the bad roads.

Many Estehanons have been forced to switch from cars to motorcycles to get anywhere.

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CATS’ EYES: If I may digress, Metro Manila motorists have noticed something similar in terms of lopsided priority in road spending.

In many sections of the metropolis, one can see redundant long stretches of cats’ eyes, those reflectorized studs implanted on roads that become rows of lights when hit by headlights.

Cats’ eyes are okay — at least they give the impression of (false) modernity to those not used to such decorations — but we do not install them just anywhere. In many places, roads are heavily rutted, but are resplendent with cats’ eyes that serve no purpose.

Each one of those eyes costs from P1,200 to P1,800 if US-made (but cheaper if made in China orKorea). Be careful not to run over those expensive eyes.

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WASHBOARD: Note also those heavy plastic-paint strips laid across roads to wake up (or annoy) drivers.

Some enterprising contractors have convinced many officials to install these washboard-like annoyance on roads that do not need them. You can imagine the fat commissions that conniving officials earn.

Since we do not have excess money to throw, officials should build, repair and maintain the basic roads FIRST before splurging on washboards and cats’ eyes.

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REPETITIOUS: In Eastern Samar, as we have started to say, one would think that road improvement would be top priority. Instead, DPWH officials prefer to pour millions on road signs, traffic control posts and guardrail posts.

Documents show that precious millions had been paid for 181 road signs and two billboards worth P4.78 million at the Camp-Junction Taft-Borongan road section, 358 Chevron directional signs, another 358 traffic control posts at the same section costing P4.679 million.

Some P4.65 million worth of guardrails and posts were also bought for the Junction Taft-San Julian road and another set also worth P4.65 million for the Borongan-Llorente road. The DPWH also bought the same materials for the same amount for the Oras-Arteche National road.

Repetitious orders had been made for other roads in the province. Some people are trying to eclipse the World Bank project shenanigans?

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of February 10, 2009)

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