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Dumping due diligence

How can a national government agency possibly issue a Notice to Proceed for a project that has not gone through required evaluation and clearance processes, and that other concerned government departments had not even been made aware of? How could the Department of Budget and Management have released funds for a project even before a feasibility study was completed (not to mention all the requisite clearances that needed to be obtained)?

Sound incredible? Yet that is exactly what happened with a project reportedly costing some P4.2 billion that will build a bridge and 20 kilometers of road to connect Coron Island and Culion in Palawan. The Department of Public Works and Highways is not only set to build it; work had already started on the ground — until concerned citizens, including a former tourism secretary, nongovernment organizations, and local communities sounded the alarm. The project was bid out and awarded in the latter part of last year, and a Notice to Proceed was issued on Nov. 25. Hence, earthwork and clearing of vegetation was begun by the contractor.

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What I find hard to understand is how funds for the project had already been released by the DBM, when it was all still clearly half-baked. A news item (not in the Inquirer) reported: “The DPWH confirmed it had not undertaken the required public consultations, feasibility study, or permit applications prior to the start of construction activities. DPWH Regional Director Yolanda Tangco said they fast-tracked the construction work because the initial P250 million in project funding released to the agency in 2020 would have to be returned to the Treasury if it was not spent within two years.”

A feasibility study, which Tangco admitted will only be completed in July this year, is the most basic step that must be completed even before a decision is made to pursue a project at all. It would determine if the project’s expected benefits would justify the costs to be incurred both to build the project, and as a result of the project. It doesn’t take a genius to know that constructing this bridge would have substantial repercussions on the environment in the area, which happens to have hundreds of hectares of highly biodiverse coral grounds, rich fisheries providing livelihoods to local residents, and six Japanese shipwrecks. Being part of the island of Palawan that has been voted best island in the world by international tourism groups, and given its ecological and historical significance, it attracts thousands of tourists annually in normal times, especially divers. The USAID Fish Right project has estimated that the five communities adjacent to the bridge project alone stand to benefit from a total estimated fish yield of P89 million annually, which would be severely jeopardized by construction activity in the area.

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But guess what: The Department of Tourism, Department of Environment and Natural Resources, and the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources under the Department of Agriculture were not even aware of the project. Tourism Secretary Berna Romulo Puyat has publicly acknowledged that her department had not been consulted, and Secretaries Roy Cimatu (DENR) and William Dar (DA) were similarly unaware of the project when the issue was first brought to their attention.

During my time in the Cabinet under President Fidel V. Ramos, the DPWH, DBM, DOT, DENR, and DA secretaries would have been herded by FVR in a room to receive his infamous “bawling out,” for a fiasco like this. His legendary “CSW” doctrine required that any undertaking of this sort that concerned several government departments should have been closely coordinated and agreed upon, even before a decision is made to pursue the project. He would require, back then, that a submission be made to him with all the signatures of all the Cabinet members concerned, to prove that such CSW had taken place. We in the Ramos Cabinet probably all had the experience of receiving back from him a submission emblazoned with the letters “CSW” at the top, with his trademark red Flair pen.

Alas, not so with this government, where too often, it seems, the right hand doesn’t even know what the left hand is doing.

[email protected]

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TAGS: Cielito F. Haibito, due diligence, government project approval, No Free Lunch, Palawan bridge
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