Corrupted public works

His plea is actually against the commonly observed public indifference, the bitter shrug of the shoulders following publicized disclosures of corrupted public works projects.

So, Baguio City Mayor Benjamin Magalong’s plea is actually an entreaty to hold firm against falling into the objectionable pessimism that corrupted public works projects are just the way the Philippine government and politics work.

“It’s about time that somebody speaks up, and unravels a lot of things that are going on with our public works,” said Mr. Magalong of his intentions.

Will Mr. Magalong’s plea be heard, now that our frustrating culture of blindness towards corruption has many Filipinos electing to just pack up their bags and leave the country?

But, as a telling testimony to our cynical times, the Baguio mayor’s plea went unnoticed, except for one or two former senators. Nothing happened. It was as if somebody was merely whispering ethereal sounds. A shame.

In point of fact, Mr. Magalong’s honesty about the greed of his fellow politicians — rare in these times of political puffery and simulacrums — had something going for it.

When he released what seemed like a paper airplane in a room crowded with the greedy and corrupt — with him specifically saying his targets were unsavory congressmen and other local chief executives — it had bombs in its belly.

Mr. Magalong, for instance, charged that some wily recalcitrant lawmakers and local chief executives are still gorging themselves in the outlawed pork barrel trough.

He said scores of politicians, who if you look closely enough are either contractors or suppliers of public works projects, conveniently go around the Supreme Court diktat against politicians having vast discretion over development funds by rigging the bidding process.

“The way they dispose of it is institutional. Some congressmen have several projects and roads but the bidding was rigged. You can check the profile of some legislators and LGU executives — many of them are contractors and suppliers. They get a percentage and they also get the projects as contractors,” he said.

In short, the painful pork barrel disease is still chronic and incurable.

But if you think that out of the miscellaneous rogueries, villainies, imbecilities, grotesqueries, and extravagances of our politicians, nothing is so inordinately gross as that pork barrel illegality, wait till you get wind of oodles of monies involved.

“I had a chance to talk to several contractors. I asked them, assuming that I will take cuts from infrastructure projects, how much will it be. And they said about 10 percent to 15 percent or 20 percent to 25 percent, depending on the decision of the mayors or the lawmakers,” said Magalong, the advocate for clean governance.

Rising corruption dividends are still enormous enough to ensure that public works projects will end up being substandard, besides having borrowed public monies and deficits line the pockets of the greedy.

“Only about 45 percent to 52 percent will be left (to the actual contractor for the project). In short, if the project is worth P100, they said, sir, they will have to settle for P42.50 to P55, including their profit so they will be forced to make substandard projects,” Mr. Magalong said.

Of course, we’re all too familiar with substandard public works and have raised nasty complaints about it, to no avail.

In fact, in 2021 a government complaints office reported that the Department of Public Works and Highways received the highest number of complaints mainly “involving anomalous transactions perpetrated jointly by local government units and DPWH district engineering offices.”

Hollowing out corrupted public works is difficult, admittedly. But we first must be lucid about it. Lucidity is the weapon of the despairing.

Mass despair is also a force to be eventually reckoned with.

“The frustration is growing,” Magalong warned. “It’s about time that what is happening with these projects, especially those led by the Department of Public Works and Highways, all get brought out.”

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