‘P400m in ghost projects’
The mayor of Lubang Island in Oriental Mindoro has called on Public Works Secretary Mark Villar to investigate alleged ghost projects worth P400 million by an “unscrupulous, overstaying” district engineer.
Mayor Roberto M. Sanchez wrote Villar on June 20, 2017, noting the “reported high percentage of accomplishments of the DPWH (Department of Public Works and Highways) on most projects while the actual works done are low or the projects have not even started.”
With Josefino “Jose” Mergal, the Oriental Mindoro DPWH District Engineer, reporting that these unstarted road projects were nearing completion, Sanchez said: “It is presumed funds have already been disbursed and paid to contractors thus making them essentially ghost projects.”
The mayor urged Villar to conduct a full audit of DPWH projects on the island “to determine the damage or losses suffered by the government, and pinpoint and prosecute public officials responsible for these gross misdeeds, dishonesty, dereliction of duties and responsibilities.”
The department had sent a team to Lubang Island on June 27 to verify Sanchez’s allegations. A week after, the audit team validated the mayor’s claims of ghost projects.
National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon Jr. also wrote to Villar nearly a month after Sanchez’s appeal, urging the secretary to consider the “alleged gross anomaly and misreporting” of public works projects in Oriental Mindoro and update the mayor on their true progress.
Mergal authored the dubious completion reports and has been district engineer of Oriental Mindoro for five years, despite the agency’s policy to reshuffle engineers every two to three years to avoid familiarity with local contractors and government officials.
Mergal or Villar could not be reached for comment at presstime.
Sanchez cited 19 road projects with a total project cost of P315.483 million as virtually ghost projects. These were undertaken by private contractors Algimar, CL Carandang, and Kejamarenik that could be liable for violations of the Revised Penal Code for falsification and malversation, and plunder under the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act.
Senator Joseph Victor “JV” Ejercito previously warned about possible plunder charges against DPWH officials regarding the ghost projects on Lubang Island, and likewise urged Villar to probe the issue.
“Secretary Villar should do a thorough investigation on this. A lot of money has been earmarked for these projects, and we need to know if they’ve been used properly or not. If true, someone needs to be held liable for plunder,” said Ejercito, the vice chairman of the Senate committee on public works.
Ejercito, who used to be the mayor of San Juan City, said the allegations of irregularities in certain DPWH projects show how powerful a district engineer is.
“They are powerful, especially if there’s a lot of funds, they are instrumental to what project can continue or not. It can be defrauded, just by saying the project is already complete when in fact they are just partially finished,” the senator said.
The biggest anomalies in the report were a combined P163.17 million in four road projects and a flood control project contracted by Algimar, which Mergal’s reports said were between 90 to 98 percent complete, when in fact they have not started or are just 50 percent finished at most.
The DPWH engineer’s reports also claimed that a P6 million in farm-to-market road projects by CL Carandang were nearly 50 percent complete as of March 2017, but have in fact barely started.
Mergal also claimed the P3.228-million Lubang Water System improvement project by Kejemarenik was 95 percent complete as of March 2017, but also has not yet started.