By Manilyn Ugalde, PNA
LEGAZPI CITY, 15Sept2013 – Angry residents of five affected barangays in nearby Daraga town have been contenting themselves with just spitting while cursing on the few installed concrete piles of a ghost bridge project in their municipality.
The asked whether there were ever responsible government officials prosecuted for the glaring scandal.
This, after almost six years that the 126-meter-long P110-million ghost bridge project financed through a calamity fund was exposed.
Built in 2007, the P110-million Binitayan- Kilikao bridge project crossing the Yawa River was funded from the P10-billion Calamity Assistance Rehabilitation Efforts (CARE) in 2007 following the devastation wrought by Typhoon “Reming” on Nov. 30, 2006 that killed close to 2,000 people in Albay alone.
The project, expected to boost the movement of agricultural products from Mt. Mayon farms, would link Daraga town poblacion to at least five barangays in the slopes of Mt. Mayon — Kilikao, Banadero, Putiao, Alcala and Matnog.
With an initial release of P40 million reportedly initiated by Rep. Al Francis Bichara (Albay, 2nd District), only a few concrete piles were installed with the funds fully collected, according to records.
In nearby Barangay Mariawa, also of Daraga town, lies a 1.2-kilometer long-abandoned and impassable road opening project costing P38.2 million.
The project was exposed by the ABS-CBN and GMA television networks as reportedly completed in 2009 and believed to have been funded from the Malampaya funds.
Residents lamented that amid the P10-billion Janet Lim Napoles – lawmakers perpetrated pork barrel scam, the affected poor remain “bridgeless and roadless.”
Both the Kilikao and Mariawa projects were under contract with Hi-Tone Construction and implemented by the DPWH regional office, according to records.
Bichara denied any release from his Priority Development Assistance Fund for the said projects and threw the blame on the Department of Public Works and Highways for failure to maintain and finished the projects.
DPWH regional director Danilo Dequito, however, said he has nothing to do with those contracts, saying he was appointed in Bicol only after the May 2010 presidential elections.
Engineer Godofredo Beltran, DPWH Bicol regional office Construction Section head, boasted that there was nothing wrong with the Mariawa road opening project, saying it was completed and built according to the program of work.
In 2009, then President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo visited Legazpi and ordered the release of additional P40 million for the completion of the botched Kilikao bridge project on the representation of Rep. Bichara.
Barangay executives Cecilia Arevalo and Eriberto Madrona of Binitayan and Kilikao, respectively, however, lamented that the additional P40 million was not spent for its purpose but for the adjacent detour bridge implemented in early 2010.
Retired DPWH assistant regional director Oscar Cristobal said Arroyo gave her order for the release of the additional P40 million at the Legazpi airport in his and Bichara’s presence by calling up then DPWH Secretary Hermogenes Ebdane through her cellphone.
The DPWH had to demolish the old but reliable Kilikao-Binitayan spillway which originally served as the link to the five upland barangays in the absence of floods.
The initial P40 million from the CARE funds gave hope that a permanent no-ordinary one-lane bridge would guarantee a free and open movement of residents, including their farm products.
But the residents are now wondering what will happen to them should the detour bridge surrender to floods.
For six long years lying idle and exposed to the public its bastardized status, the bridge project has only become an eyesore that residents cannot help nauseating on the development, said Nicanor Bueno, a banker residing in Barangay Kilikao.
Cristobal admitted that a project is classified as “ghost” if it is less than half finished.
He, however, denied involvement in the bridge scam by pointing to the DPWH Regional Task Force as responsible for its initial implementation.
A brainchild of then regional director Orlando Roces, who was regional director from 2001 to 2009, the task force was created through a regional memorandum order to implement projects exclusive for Albay 2nd District, pending approval of the proposed Albay 2nd District Engineering Office sought by Bichara following his election in 2007.
The task force was headed by engineer Arnold Matamorosa who directly reported to the regional director without the involvement of two assistant regional directors whatsoever, including in the signing of documents, said Cristobal, who retired in 2011.
The controversy over the unfinished Kilikao Bridge surfaced in 2009 after the contractor failed to show proof of appropriate physical accomplishments despite the boasted initial release of P40 million.
Then self-confessed Bicol jueteng lord and barangay captain Wilfredo “Boy” Mayor was the known Kilikao bridge contractor, however, using a borrowed license from Hi-Tone Construction, said then regional director Danilo Manalang who succeeded Roces in mid-2009.
A known friend and political leader of Bichara, Mayor was assassinated at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport road in early 2010.
It was also Mayor who claimed to have recommended Matamorosa to Bichara and Roces to be the task force head.
Following the appointment of Manalang as regional director in 2009, he created a probe team headed by a lady engineer, Rebecca Roces, that investigated the task force’s projects.
Manalang then told the local media, quoting the probe team report, that 90 percent of the task force’s projects were bastardized and allegedly controlled by the task force head as the contractor, forcing him to relieve Matamorosa as task force head.
It was learned that Matamorosa has already filed his retirement since 2011, however, without facing a single case.
In an interview recently, retired Bicol DPWH investigator Romeo Esplana said the Kilikao bridge project was less than 30-percent completed.
He said that with the additional P40 million, it was very clear in its Sub-Allotment Release Order (SARO), it was intended for the completion of the permanent Kilikao-Binitayan Bridge.
Instead, it was used for a detour bridge built of government-owned Mabey components, said Esplana, who claimed that based on his overall estimate, only 30 percent of the two releases went to the projects.
Esplana said the second P40-million release was implemented by the DPWH Regional Project Management Office headed by engineer Bonifacio Avila, who said in previous interviews that aside from the detour bridge, part of the funds was also used for the dredging of the Yawa River and other flood control projects.
Avila said the regional director had decided on his own to divert the P40-million funds for the detour bridge because it was not enough to complete the permanent Kilikao Bridge.
Esplana said that despite of the countless scandals in the DPWH Bicol, none has ever been prosecuted – making him wonder whatever has happened to the role of the Commission on Audit as the taxpayers’ watchdog. (PNA)