COLUMN: NEW BRIDGE RUSHED FOR PHOTO OPS, COLLAPSES

MANILA,  March 10, 2004
 (STAR) DEMAND AND SUPPLY By Boo Chanco - While we were all focused on poll surveys and FPJís refusal to face his fellow presidential aspirants, something that should have been politically earthshaking was happening. Ironically, it was the daily owned by Ate Gloís former publicist that editorialized how the construction of a new bridge somewhere in the Cordilleras was rushed by the DPWH so that Ate Glo can inaugurate it just in time for her campaign sortie in the area.

Thatís par for the courseÖ except that the P100 million bridge, considered a flagship project of the Arroyo administration and was also partly funded (P30 million) by the British government, collapsed even before it could be inaugurated. Known as the Pasil Bridge, the 90-foot suspension bridge would have provided the major link of towns in upper Kalinga to its neighbors in the Cordillera and to the outside world.

According to news reports, Kalinga leaders blame the DPWH secretary entirely for the collapse. They claim that to gain "pogi" points with MalacaŮang, he kept pressuring the DPWH technical personnel and engineers as well as the private contractor to hasten the completion of the bridge so that President Arroyo could inaugurate it herself during her scheduled visit to Baguio and the Cordilleras last month. They must have taken short cuts on top of under specifications or why would a brand new bridge fall?

This looks like a case of a photo op operation gone wrong. It doesnít surprise me. Ate Glo loves photo opportunities except that in the heat of the campaign, her underlings may be overdoing it. I suppose they have to restart building that bridge in Pasil from scratch. That means P100 million of taxpayer money (ours and Britainís) went down the ravine.

It is unfortunate that Ate Glo is trying too hard to impress these days instead of having the casual confidence of the incumbent. While we canít blame her since this is an election she must win for Jose Pidalís sake, she may be ruining whatever goodwill her late father may have invested on the family name. Take that speech in Palawan when she supposedly gave a few million pesos to the province with the admonition that more would come their way if they voted for her.

If I were from Palawan, I would totally resent that condescending attitude. In the first place, if Imperial Manila only gave Palawan their just share in the Malampaya royalties, PalaweŮos wonít have to beg at all. They would get hundreds of millions of pesos a year no matter who is in MalacaŮang. Think of the development that the Malampaya royalty can deliver to Palawan! It is terrible to be made to beg and given a pittance when you are rightfully rich.

In Cavite, Ate Glo also told the people there that they owe her plenty because she worked to put up factories in the province ever since she was DTI Undersecretary. Anyone who understands the forces at work here would know that it isnít as simple as one person being responsible for the growth of business and industry in one province. Did she really think the Cavitenos are as stupid as to take her word for it? She shouldnít have even tried that path unless she has the lowest respect for the intelligence of the CaviteŮos.

Going back to the DPWH, it is interesting to note that according to its own Bureau of Research and Standards (BRS), 77 percent of the 1,389 projects carried out by the departmentís regional and district offices last year were defective. Worse, about 213 of the total defective projects were funded by foreign agencies and institutions or foreign governments but they account for 70 percent of the P33-billion total cost.

Given our serious budgetary problems and our total inability to fund needed infrastructure projects from tax collections, we are becoming quite dependent on foreign aid programs. But if we keep up this record of wasting not just our taxpayersí money but those of the taxpayers of our donor countries, pupulutin talaga tayo sa kangkungan.

The most common defects discovered were: cracking of concrete pavements, raveling of asphalt, minor scaling, and insufficient sealant on weakened plane joints and potholes. In short, substandard and a culpable violation of the specifications contained in the project contracts. The DPWH internal watchdog also reports that the percentage of projects with major defects jumped to 34 percent in 2003 from 16 percent in 2002.

Then again, if they couldnít even assure that a bridge scheduled for a photo op inauguration with Ate Glo can stay up long enough to have the ribbons cut before TV cameras, what can we expect? Luckily it happened before Ate Glo was on the bridge, not while she was on it.

Sana, the next time a substandard bridge collapses, the thieving DPWH officials and contractors responsible for it are on it.

Manila And KL

Got this e-mail from Dr. Manuel A. Tipgos, Professor of Accounting Indiana University.

"We were visiting our folks in Manila and provinces after Christmas and into the first few days of the New Year. I read with interest your article in the Business Section, "The Philippine Star" about importing Dr. Mahathir.

Truly what he did for Malaysia (KL in particular) is unbelievable. I was assigned by my university in KL from 1976 to 1978 to run a masterís program in one of the local universities. We left in 1978 and came back 10 years later just to look around, so to speak. We found KL so developed to such an extent that we cannot even trace the very place we used to live.

On our way back home to the US, I read also with interest an article about enlightening FPJ on economics written by Bernardo Villegas. In wide contrast with your article about KL, Mr. Villegas was lecturing FPJ about rural development (basic infrastructures such as roads, irrigation, bridges, etc.). I e-mailed him about his "economics" which was the very "economics" that Ramon Magsaysay became popular over 48 years ago! At about that time, the Philippines was way out ahead in just about every aspect of life and development, particularly education.

So, what happened to our dear Philippines during all these years? Even Sri Lanka is beating the "Pearl of the Orient Seas." In my hometown, my folks got their electricity just about five years ago. What a change in the life of my home folks.

So, whatís my point? Iím not really sure. I am hoping though that the power of the pen like yours can ask some of these basic questions away from the old politics of the Philippines for over 48 years. Iíve been coming to UP to help teach graduate level courses just about every summer for about 10 years now and my feelings vary coming in and going out of the country.

Just before landing at Ninoy Aquino International Airport, I am usually filled with hopes and excitement about the country. On my way out after over a month of watching and participating in the life of the country, looking down from 30 thousand feet, my hopes turn into hopelessness about tomorrow for the Philippines. I guess this is part of the reason why I typed these lines for you to read".

Thank you for reading. More power to you, sir.


Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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