Citizens force city to improve quality control of public works

By Abner Francisco 

KIDAPAWAN CITY–The importance and value of citizen action has been shown here after a new footbridge certified complete in 2012 by the local government yet unusable in heavy rain, was finally fixed after a protest led by the Watchful Advocates for Transparent Clean and Honest Governance in North Cotabato (WATCH North Cotabato). 

Independent observers and retired engineers maintain it shows up a very basic failure of oversight, monitoring and a lack of quality control by the local authority. It also suggests the city does not hold poorly performing public works’ contractors to account.

Despite being approved and signed off by the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH), the footbridge was regarded as a joke and a waste of public money by local people here after its poor design and lack of drainage left it flooded and rendered it totally unusable in the rainy season. 

Faced with the prospect of climbing up the footbridge stairs only to face wading through knee-deep water, most residents here chose to wade through the same knee-deep water on the ground. 

Now thanks to citizen action, DPWH workers finally put holes in the bridge to drain rainwater, a fixture which should have been there from the start.

WATCH North Cotabato had filed a formal complaint against the ALZEN Engineering and Construction Supplies, the private contractor for the bridge project under the supervision of the DPWH, before the Philippine Contractors Accreditation Board (PCAB).

PCAB is a government agency created through Republic Act 4566 or the Contractors’ License Law whose mandate includes suspension and revocation of licenses of contractors who would be found guilty of violating contracts in implementing public or even private infrastructure projects.

WATCH North Cotabato questioned the plan of the city government to shell out funds to repair the project.

“Why would the city government of Kidapawan use more public funds to repair the bridge and cover up for the inadequacies of a private contractor? Based on the Implementing Rules and Regulation of the Republic Act 9184 (Government Procurement Reform Act) all government projects are covered with warranty. Why not ask ALZEN Engineering and Construction Supplies to correct the structural flaws of their project,” the group asked in its complaint. 

The PCAB listed a certain Mr. Alipio and Zeny Embodo of Kidapawan City as the registered owners of the said construction company.

WATCH North Cotabato stressed in its complaint that the contractor should be made accountable for the structural defects of the project.

“If the said contractor is not doing the project properly it is just proper that PCAB should impose disciplinary action upon them,” the group said.


Troubled bridge

The said bridge was funded through the controversial Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) of Cotabato Second District Representative Nancy Catamco.

It is located along Quezon Boulevard and in front of the Kidapawan City Pilot Elementary School (KCPES) and the Kidapawan City National High School (KCNHS) on the other side. 

The two public schools have a total combined population of about 8,680 students based on the Department of Education’s enrolment data for school year 2013-2014.

The bridge, one of only two in the city, mainly serves school children. But because of its poor structure, it seemed more of a problem than a boon to pedestrians. 

Those who cross the bridge have to remove their shoes or slippers or else they will be drenched with dirty and smelly stagnant water.

The bridge has no roof so the rainwater pours directly on the evenly levelled flooring of the bridge. It has no drainage system or outlet thus causing the impounded water to stagnate.

To make use of the bridge during the rainy season, some parents put some stones, sand bags, and pieces of bamboo and lumber for their children and other passerby to step on and not get soaked. 

"It's like crossing a river where you have to step on stones to get to the other side," said a teacher from KCNHS who declined to be identified .

Before the recent repairs, the only way to drain the stagnant water was to siphon it off using a mechanical motor or drain it off using a pail or tabo (dipper) -- or simply wait for the rainwater to totally evaporate. Manual draining would take hours while evaporation would take one to two weeks depending on the weather condition. 

Roy Legaspi, president of the Parent-Teacher Association (PTA) of KCPES told the Citizen Action Network for Accountability the bridge is supposed to provide students and teachers with safer routes to the schools on each side of the national road, but apparently its poor condition is not helping both the schools and the children at all. 

“Kung ulan magbanaw ang tubig-baha sa tulay kung tag init pud dili makaya ang sidlak sa adlaw kay walay atop (When it rains, the bridge is submerged with floodwater, and in sunny days, the scorching heat of the sun is unbearable as the bridge has no roof),” Legaspi said.

Based on the DPWH Consolidated Constructors Performance Summary Report of 2012, the bridge project had a total budget of PhP 7,609,293 and was completed in 2012. 

DXCA Charm Radio tried to get the side of ALZEN Engineering through Embodo but she did not reply to text messages sent to her mobile number. 

In an interview, City Mayor Joseph Evangelista admitted that something is indeed wrong with the bridge’s design. 

Evangelista said his office has already sent several requests to the DPWH First Engineering District under District Engineer Mamintal Taha to correct the bridge’s design but these were not immediately acted upon. 

“Nagpagawa na lang ako ng Program of Works para sa drainage system ng overpass. Ang LGU na lang maghandle sa problema (I have no choice but order the preparation of the Program of Works for the drainage system of the overpass. The local government unit will just handle the problem.),” he said.

Engineer Ernesto Camposano, chief of the Construction Division of DPWH First Engineering District based in this city, previously said over radio station DXND Radyo Bida the bridge project complied with its Program of Work but speculated that the bridge flooring might have some “lacking holes”.

Concrete man gud na basi naa lang portion nga walay bangag, basi kulang lang ang bangag sa floor mismo. Dapat naa drainage para didto moagi ang tubig sa bangag ug motulo lang sya. Basi mao lang na ang problema (The project is made of concrete material. It could be that there is a portion that has no hole or the floor lacks holes. There should be a drainage so that the water would pass through the hole. Maybe that’s what is causing the problem.)”

While Camposano theorized that the absence or lack of holes is the cause of the problem, his office did not immediately act on the problem – until lately. “Ipatan-aw lang nato na (We’ll have that problem checked.),” he said. 


Failure 

Retired Engineer Eugenio Aguinaldo, who used to work with the DPWH and the now defunct Bureau of Public Works, described the flooded bridge as a “failure”.

“Palpak gyud na nga trabaho. Dapat medyo taas ang flooring sa tunga para ang tubig dili magpondo ug dapat naay bangag sa duha ka sides (That project is a failure. The flooring at the center is supposed to be higher so that water will not be impounded and that it should have holes on both sides.).” 

Aguinaldo said that if he were to design the said bridge, he would have made holes with two inches in diameter and 10 meters apart on both sides.

Aguinaldo also wondered how and why the project was turned over to the city government despite the structural design flaws. 

He also said that apart from DPWH, the Project Monitoring Committee of the Local Government of Kidapawan should have checked the project before payment was made to the contractor.

Ang monitoring committee ng City Government ay dapat nakatutok dyan kahit pa ang project ay ini-implement ng national government through the DPWH (City government’s monitoring committee should have kept their eyes on that project even if these were being implemented by the national government through the DPWH.),” Aguinaldo stressed.

Carl Warner, former president of the Central Mindanao Construction Multi-Purpose Cooperative (CMCMPC), suggested submitting complaints to the PCAB so that contractors who are not doing their work properly would be stripped of their licences or blocklisted from the roster of accredited contractors. 

“Kung blocklisted naman gud ang isa ka contractor disqualified na sila magparticipate sa mga bidding sa gobyerno (Once a contractor is blacklisted he or she is disqualified to participate in public bidding.).” 

WATCH North Cotabato urged citizens to help monitor the quality of services delivered to the public, such as this one. 

“We deserve better public services. Through our voices, we are able to compel our governments to do better,” the group said. Citizen Action Network for Accountability  (Photos by Abner Francisco 

(The author is the Program Director of dxCA Charm Radio in Kidapawan City.)