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Roads and bones

It’s no longer news when a losing bidder in a government project turns against the agency conducting the bidding and begins alleging corruption on the part of officials, or collusion among them and the winning bidder.

So it is with the public bidding conducted by the Department of Public Works and Highways for the five-year rehabilitation and maintenance of the 123.5-kilometer road spanning Surigao, Davao, Surigao (Lipata) and Agusan del Norte.

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As soon as the winning bidder for the project, a joint venture of Equi-Parco Construction Co. and Hebei Road and Bridge Group Co. Ltd., was announced, a former DPWH contractor and Butuan City councilor named Sergio Pascual publicly denounced the bidding, claiming it had been “rigged.”

Pascual’s possible links to the losing bidders—China Wuyi Co. Ltd. and Wijaya Karya (Persero) Tbk—aren’t clear at this point, but Pascual is known to the DPWH as a contractor himself, one who was allegedly banned and blacklisted by the agency because of a “derogatory record.”

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Reacting to Pascual’s accusations, Public Works Assistant Secretary Gilberto Reyes, who also chaired the Bids and Awards Committee, called his charges “baseless and incorrect.”

Indeed, the DPWH has affirmed the legality of the contract for the five-year rehabilitation and maintenance of the road, which is located in the provinces of Surigao del Norte and Surigao del Sur in the Caraga region. This is among the poorest regions in the country, and as observers note, “road infrastructure projects such as this would in fact serve to accelerate socioeconomic development in the area.”

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While assailing Pascual’s use of the media and of the time granted him during a congressional hearing, Reyes clarified that the approved budget for the contract was P3.4 billion (and not P2.5 billion, as claimed). Thus, the winning bidder’s offer of P3.3 billion is lower than the approved budget, not 20 percent higher as alleged.

The road project is also being undertaken with the support of the Japan International Cooperation Agency (Jica), the development arm of the Japanese government, which is shouldering 76 percent or P2.3 billion of the project costs. What critics also fail to point out is that the losing bidders were disqualified from the proceedings due to “substantial and clear grounds for disqualification based on Jica guidelines.”

It seems clear that Pascual, the most stringent critic of the project, doesn’t come to the controversy with the proverbial “clean hands.” What’s sad is that in his zeal to get back at the DPWH officials, he is also holding up a vital development project for Filipinos who need it most.

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“Osteoporosis” is a diagnosis that people “of a certain age” actually fear. Called a “silent disease,” osteoporosis, as its name indicates, signals that one’s bones are becoming porous, weak and prone to breakage. “This is due to the loss of calcium,” says Dr. Gemiliano Aligui, a bone specialist with the UE Ramon Magsaysay Memorial Medical Center Inc. Not many are aware that calcium loss can begin as early as one’s 30s, although the disease may not manifest itself fully until much later in life.

The International Osteoporosis Foundation (IOF) has designated Oct. 20 as “World Osteoporosis Day,” an occasion to call attention to the need to adopt “a bone-healthy diet throughout a person’s lifetime to optimize bone strength.”

Bone-building begins even before birth, when a fetus in the womb depends on the mother’s store of calcium to start building bones and teeth. In olden times, this meant the loss of a tooth or bone weakening among pregnant women, until doctors prescribed a regimen of calcium supplements not just for the mother but also for the child. But calcium loss can continue with the wrong or inadequate diet and hormonal assaults, such as pregnancy or even stress.

“There are no symptoms of osteoporosis,” says Dr. Aligui over dinner. “One can only tell after undergoing a bone scan,” which was performed on the guests thanks to sponsor Pfizer. Otherwise, the only other sign of osteoporosis is a catastrophic event, such as a bone fracture even after a minor incident, including a fall, a stumble, or even just twisting one’s spine suddenly.

“Awareness of bone health” is the advocacy being pursued by Pfizer Consumer Healthcare, which markets Caltrate Plus, one of the best-selling calcium supplements on the market.

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What can one do to stave off the onset of osteoporosis? “It begins in childhood,” says Dr. Aligui, and in large part, an adult’s bone health depends on one’s childhood diet and amount of exercise. Although, adds the doctor, adults would do well to remain as physically active as they can and follow a “calcium-rich” diet. Also helpful, he says, is avoiding calcium-draining food and drinks, such as fats, sugar, caffeine and alcohol, smoking, as well as stressful situations.

The bad news is that women are more prone to osteoporosis than men. And, according to Pfizer, Filipinos are particularly prone because of, on average, a poor diet, with most getting only a fraction of the minimum daily amount of calcium, vitamin D and protein deemed necessary to maintain bone health.

We do tend to take bone health for granted, until something happens to limit our mobility. With time, many develop a stoop due to a weakening spine. These in turn can lead to depression and mar our quality of life. True, osteoporosis (or its precursor, osteopenia) is incurable, but, says Pfizer, “controlling its risk factors and complying with treatment regimens where prescribed can ensure a mobile, independent and fracture-free life.”

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TAGS: bidding, Department of Public Works and Highways, Japan International Cooperation Agency, osteoporosis
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