Repairing streets still in good condition | Inquirer Opinion
As I See It

Repairing streets still in good condition

/ 02:06 AM April 30, 2012

A lot of people have asked me why the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) and its contractors are tearing up Metro Manila streets that are still in perfect condition only to cement them all over again, while so many other streets that are in very bad condition are not being repaired. Alas, I have no answer to that (although many of us have our suspicions); only the DPWH has the answer to the mystery.

People are asking because so many streets in Metro Manila have been torn up, at the same time creating monstrous traffic jams.

I myself have wondered and have been asking around about that, but I have not gotten any clear explanations from anyone, only suspicions. When I see concrete pavements being torn up with jackhammers, I sometimes walk to the portion not yet torn up to look for defects. Maybe because I’m no expert in these things, I see no defects that would justify spending millions of pesos  badly needed elsewhere. I ask sources in the DPWH and they are as mystified as the others.

When I go to the provinces, I encounter very rough roads, with potholes as big as carabao wallows (indeed, one rainy season, in one of these potholes I once saw a carabao,  actually cooling itself), making travel in these provinces like a safari through Dark Africa. Locals say these roads have been in a state of disrepair for many years, but officials reply that there is no money for their repair.


The Marcos Highway from Marikina to Infanta, Quezon, for example, is still unfinished decades after its construction was started, in spite of the fact that this is a very important highway that would make the transport of goods and people across the Sierra Madre mountains so much easier and faster. The

DPWH’s explanation: There is no money.

If that is so, why is the DPWH wasting millions of pesos to tear up and cement Metro streets that are still in good condition when the money is badly needed to repair roads in the provinces?

One plausible explanation given by a DPWH insider is that the Metro streets have budgets, while the provincial roads have none. He explained it this way:


Many streets and roads are constructed and repaired with pork barrel funds from congressmen and senators. The rural areas need so many other things so the pork barrel funds are depleted very quickly. In Metro Manila, however, most infrastructures are in good condition so there is an excess of pork funds. Unspent public funds go back to the treasury at the end of the fiscal year, so they must be spent before the yearend. Otherwise public officials won’t get any kickbacks if there are no projects. That is also why many government offices have out-of-town seminars as the fiscal year nears its end—to use the unspent funds which would go back to the Treasury, or else that office would be given a smaller budget the following year.

Street repair is one of the most common ways to spend money. Not only that, the favorite contractors get public works contracts from which they give friendly public officials their kickbacks. That is another reason there are many road repairs going on at the same time at the end of the fiscal year.


But many road repairs are still going on after the fiscal year. How so? The explanation: the contracts were awarded before the end of the fiscal year. Never mind if the contracts were actually awarded much later. Dates can easily be antedated.

Furthermore, road repairs are very visible projects; the motorist and commuter cannot help but see those huge signs declaring that the road repair is a project of Congressman So-and-So. It is not, technically, electioneering but those public works signs do better than the millions of pesos worth of posters, banners and other gimmicks produced to get votes for the congressman during the elections.

So next time you are caught in one of those infernal traffic jams in a road-repair project, just control your temper and think that it is for the benefit of some overworked public officials and their favorite contractors.

* * *

The closing of some U-turn slots and the reopening of some intersections are among the better ideas of Metro Manila Development Authority Chair Francis Tolentino. The previous MMDA administration became so enamored with U-turns that it closed so many intersections and replaced them with U-turns.

The reason behind them is logical. At intersections, so many vehicles going in four directions clog not only the intersections but also the streets leading to them. With U-turns, vehicles go only in two directions.

But the U-turns did not always result in better traffic. In some cases, traffic worsened because there were so many vehicles that they clogged the U-turn slots. The worst examples are the U-turns in front of Ateneo and Miriam on Katipunan Avenue in Quezon City.

Some U-turn slots are too far in-between, as the one in Commonwealth Avenue. After Tandang Sora going east, the U-turn slot is almost a kilometer away, near the Ever-Gotesco mall. That’s a waste of so much gasoline, and gasoline is getting more expensive not only for the motorists but also for the Philippine government which has to shell out more dollars to import crude oil.

And then at some combination flyover and underpass, like the one at the Edsa-Quezon Avenue intersection, vehicles still have to use U-turn slots despite the fact that millions were spent to make traffic here smoother. The flyover is for north-south vehicles, the underpass is for east-west traffic, and the ground level is for turning vehicles. But the MMDA then was so in love with U-turns that it also put U-turns here.

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That’s an overkill.

TAGS: DPWH, Government, Graft and Corruption, Metro Manila, Public Works

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