DPWH urged to settle ROW issues first before project implementation

MANILA Senator Panfilo Lacson on Monday urged the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) to settle all right of way (ROW) issues first before implementing road infrastructure programs, saying such issues are a major cause of delay and waste of taxpayers' money.

Lacson particularly cited two DPWH projects a bypass road in Sariaya, Quezon and the Baguio City, La Trinidad, Itogon, Sablan, Tuba and Tublay (BLISST) circumferential road project that were undertaken even without the full settlement of right of way payments.

In Sariaya, the lawmaker said some land owners who have legitimate titles have not received any right of way compensation from the DPWH while others got their payment from a private contractor.

The project was suspended in 2016 due to the various ROW issues.

RA 10752 or the Right of Way Act provides that in the implementation of infra projects, the DPWH shall ensure that all ROW expenses authorized by the law are settled before the commencement of projects, Lacson said during the hearing of the proposed PHP555.7 billion DPWH project for 2019.

The main problem here is ROW settlement. Simultaneous implementation of ROW payments and civil works becomes the cause of delay if not the suspension or abandonment of projects, he added.

In the case of the BLISTT circumferential road project, Lacson noted that besides ROW issues, construction is being hampered by the lack of slope protection.

A landslide in August buried a portion of the project along the Labey-Lacamen provincial road due to the lack of slope protection.

Slope protection should have come before constructing the road. It is part of the feasibility study, Lacson said.

Lacson warned that he would recommend for the deletion of the funds for the said projects if DPWH fails to settle the ROW issues like what he did in 2017, when he recommended for the deletion of about PHP50 billion from the DPWH's proposed 2018 budget.

The Sariaya and BLISTT projects were among those included in the PHP50-billion allocation.

The allocation was restored by Congress during the bicameral conference committee hearing.

"Maghihigpit kami, ako in particular, na kailangan settled ang ROW issues bago pondohan ang proyekto (We will be strict, I in particular, that ROW issues should be settled before projects are funded) in pursuance of RA 10752," the veteran lawmaker said in an interview.

Kung hindi ma-settle ang ROW, ipapa-delete natin. Noong isang taon ni-restore nila yan. Karamihan doon insertion ng mga congressmen (If ROW issues are not settled, we will have these deleted. Last year they restored it. Most of these were insertions of congressmen), Lacson said.

In response, DPWH Secretary Mark Villar on Monday maintained that the department's proposed 2019 budget has no pork barrel.

In an interview after the budget hearing, Villar said the proposed DPWH budget for 2019 has no fund insertions intended for legislative districts throughout the country.

There is no pork barrel. This is all budgeted, all going through the process, he said.

When you talk about pork barrel, these are discretionary funds, there are no discretionary funds, these are all line items, Villar stressed.

On the ROW issues, he admitted that there are indeed instances when right of way issues cropped up in the middle of construction.

There are times that problems arise during the process which were not anticipated during the planning, he said.

Among them are cases when claimants fail to provide the agency with complete documents and when additional claimants suddenly crop up during construction, among others.

DPWH officials also assured that slope protection and management is now part of DPWH project planning and implementation.

These do not happen on a regular basis. We cannot anticipate everything in the course of planning. We apologize, Villar said.

He also thanked the lawmakers for their inputs.

We appreciate the extensive research being done because these will help us improve our performance. Thank you for bringing these up to our attention, Villar said.

Meanwhile, deliberations for the DPWH's proposed 2019 budget will resume on Tuesday, September 4. (PNA)

Source: Philippine News Agency