P900 million to construct a 100-meter road

By Fernan J. Angeles

GOVERNMENT infrastructure projects have long been known as breeding graft as most of it are either overpriced, substandard or paid but not existing or simply ghost projects.

However, in Nueva Ecija, there is one small project that has already compelled the government to cough out so much money --- and to think, coming in big for three consecutive years.

The Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) has in fact been spending close to one billion pesos to construct a 100-meter road access in Barangay Puttlan, Caranglan town in Nueva Ecija.

In a Senate budget deliberation, DPWH Sec. Mark Villar was seen at the receiving end of Sen. Panfilo Lacson’s sarcasm which delves on figures as to how much the government has spent and would still be spending for the construction of just a 100 meter portion of the Maharlika Road.

Lacson made a public display of his ability to comprehend his mathematics by computing the cost that the taxpayers are spending just for a 100-meter long road segment, technically described as KM 0193+500 to KM 0193+600 along the Maharlika Road in Nueva Ecija.

According to the senator, the construction of the road, which he described as overpriced, also appears to be taking so long. Records show that the road construction project started way back in 2016. The same year, the DPWH got P300 million for it.

In 2017, DPWH got another P300 million for the continuation of the project.

At the end of 2017, the DPWH is asking for another P300 million to wrap it up --- and the agency handily got what they asked for.

The senator claims to have personally seen the road project and presented pictures of himself while doing the inspection at the road construction site as a matter of proof to his claim. He said the 100-meter road has a slope of 20 to 40 meters upward and has a 150- to 200-meter slope downward.

"If we compute, assuming that we compute that area, on per square meter basis, and using the high end, 40 meters upward and 200 meters pababa (downward). So 40 meters upward slope x 100 meters is equal to 4,000 square meters. The downward slope, so [let's use] 200 meters x 100 meters, so that's 20,000 square meters. That's 24,000 square meters," Lacson said.

"I divided P900 million with 24,000 square meters. That's P37,500 per square meter," he added, then pointed out that this was higher than usual estimates for roads.

He however didn’t make any mention as to how much is the standard cost of other projects.

Then the session was temporally halted. At the break, Senator Loren Legarda huddled with the DPWH Secretary, from whom she got the explanation as to why the cost of that particular project is much higher than the others.

At the resumption of the session, Legarda explained that the project involves 40,000 square meters under multi-year funding, amounting to a total of P900 million as of 2018.

Legarda, however, said that the P900-million budget is not just for road construction but also for "slope protection," adding that the cost is higher than usual because it is not a straight road.

"It is not just the narrow road, it's in a zigzagging area," says the lady senator.

Howerver, Lacson didn’t buy the explanation, even coming from a fellow lawmaker. An obviously pissed Lacson said: “I think we deserve a better explanation than that."

Lacson is right. Many Filipinos may have missed formal schooling thus rendering them with limited knowledge, but one thing is certain --- Pinoys aren’t dumb.

A check on infrastructure projects of a Metro Manila city in eastern metropolis, figures tend to show that the government has been spending some P15-20 million to construct a one-kilometer concrete road. The amount, an engineer said, could have been lower if not for the SOPs (over-riding commission, usually paid in advance) that the local chief executives require from investors wanting to do business with them.

The P900 million 100 meter-long road construction project translates to a whopping P9 million per meter toll on the Filipino people’s hard-earned taxes.

Interestingly, the government could actually do six to seven 100 meter road projects just for P15 million pesos --- if we are to base the project on the prevailing cost that the highly urbanized Metro Manila cities have been adopting.

Simple mathematical computation shows that the amount that the government has been spending on the 100-meter segment of the Maharlika Road in Nueva Ecija could have been enough to finance 420 projects of similar length --- provided that the pricing would follow what the highly urbanized Metro Manila cities have been spending for a project of similar specifications.

Other ranting issues hurled by Lacson to the DPWH chief involves multimillion-peso feasibility studies of the DPWH, questioning whether the results of these studies have been effective and that of the three-kilometer Baguio to Bauang Phase 1 project, which remains unfinished. Lacson presented photos showing that the middle of the road was not yet paved.

From the looks of it, DPWH remains a breeding ground of predators known as “corruptodiles.”

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