'Not inconceivable' for Duterte to form task force to probe DPWH corruption: Palace

Jamaine Punzalan, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Oct 21 2020 11:03 AM

President Rodrigo Duterte drives through the Candon City Bypass Road in Ilocos Sur during its inauguration on July 25, 2019. With the President were Sen. Christopher "Bong" Go and Public Works Secretary Mark Villar. Arman Baylon, Presidential Photo/File

MANILA - President Rodrigo Duterte may create a separate task force to stamp out alleged corruption in the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH), which earlier formed its own group to address the problem, Malacañang said Wednesday.

Public Works Secretary Mark Villar earlier this week created a task force made up of 5 officials to probe fellow executives and employees after Duterte on Monday night criticized the agency again for corruption.
 
But some "doubt" if the DPWH task force will succeed "because it’s the same people investigating one another," said Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque. 

"We would prefer an independent body, but for now let’s face it, in an organization, you need a mechanism for internal accountability. Police [have] it, I don’t see any reason why the DPWH shouldn’t have one 
That is why we say it’s a step towards the right direction," he told CNN Philippines. 

"But this initial step is without prejudice to whatever the President may order in the near future. It’s not inconceivable that another task force for the DPWH may be formed by the President in the same way that he formed one for the PhilHealth," he added. 

The President had created a task force led by the justice department to investigate corruption at PhilHealth. The panel last month recommended that charges be filed against former and current top officials. 

The possible creation of a separate task force for DPWH "depends on how this task force will operate—if it’s credible, if it can hold individuals accountable for their acts," Roque said. 

Malacañang had expected Villar's task force to submit its initial findings on Tuesday, he said. 

"But of course, having said that, we have full faith and trust and confidence in Secretary Villar," said Duterte's spokesman. 

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Senators earlier flagged around P345.25-billion in lump sum lodged in the DPWH's proposed 2021 budget. Some lawmakers and officials of the department also allegedly ask for "kickbacks" from contractors that win projects from the agency. 

Duterte said in Monday's public briefing that subordinates of Villar were to blame for alleged corruption in DPWH, citing how the official hails from a billionaire family.

"Si Villar mayaman. Sec. Villar maraming pera, 'di kailangan mangurakot. Ang problema, sa baba. Malakas pa rin hanggang ngayon. 'Yung mga projects sa baba, 'yun ang laro diyan," he said of the official.

(Villar is rich. Sec. Villar has lots of money, and doesn't need to commit corruption. The problem is in the lower ranks. It's still rampant. The projects at the bottom, that's where the game is.)

The Commission on Audit (COA) has told the DPWH to recover a total of P431.933 million from contractors of projects which exceeded allowable costs. 

The public may also report anomalies to hotline 8888, Roque said.