Sunday, May 24, 2015

Work in progress

My May 24, 2015 column.

I know that some people might find this an exercise in nitpicking, but I still want to ask: Is it really imperative that the public works being done all over the country be done all at the same time now? Put another way, why couldn’t these be spread out over a period of say, four years, beginning in 2013? 

I ask this because the area where I live has suddenly become one giant construction site. Our house is now bordered by all kinds of public works activities. The road fronting our house has been closed off to give way to improvements being done on a major canal – they’ve destroyed the concrete dikes and are building taller ones, which the contractors said will now be covered so that people can no longer throw their garbage into the canal. It’s a great idea. Sadly, the contractors do not seem to be in a rush and worse, do not seem to be familiar with doing work in “phases.” Thus, the whole stretch of road from end to end had been closed off even if construction work is only being done on one isolated part. Further south of our house is another construction site to improve drainage. The construction work on the South Superhighway Skyway is just a stone’s throw away and the drilling and ground shaking can be felt where we are on certain nights. There are at least five others construction sites that I have to traverse on my way to work everyday.
Adding to the aggravation is that most of the work that requires heavy equipment, or hauling of concrete or materials, have to be done at night because of that darned truck ban in Manila! Many people in our area have been sleep-deprived for a month now, and by the looks of it, way until 2016.  
Of course it is good to know that government is finally spending and releasing money for public infrastructure. It’s also very important to note that none of the construction sites have those billboards that were ubiquitous in the past - the ones that featured the smiling mugs of politicians who shamelessly claimed credit for the construction project, as if the money came directly from their own pockets. Yes, it’s heartwarming to know that our taxes are being put to use. But the timing seems suspicious. All these projects could have been implemented in stages in the last four years, so why only now? 
And take note, the construction frenzy is not just happening in Metro Manila but nationwide. I was in Leyte last week. The road trip from Tacloban City to my hometown in Abuyog, which ordinarily takes an hour, extended to about two hours, thanks to the construction work being undertaken in various parts of the Maharlika Highway. There was a construction site practically every 10 kilometers or so. My friends say this phenomenon is happening everywhere in this country; it wouldn’t be inappropriate for government to claim that the whole country is under construction now.
Most of us are willing to live with the inconvenience brought about by the various construction works. But is it true that all these are being done now as part of the preparations for the 2016 elections? It does seem as if the dominant party is hell bent on ensuring massive victory in next year’s elections and is therefore raising funds for the purpose. As we all know, contractors don’t get choice projects by sheer luck; they do so by padding the pockets of politicians through various schemes.
While we’re on the subject of government spending, I must report that there are people in Leyte who are still awaiting the much-ballyhooed financial assistance promised to them when the government, through the Department of Social Welfare and Development, issued green cards to victims of the super typhoon. In my hometown of Abuyog, for instance, many victims have already pawned their green cards to businessmen in exchange for rice and basic commodities to stave off hunger. The catch is that the “interest rates” are beyond usurious, precisely because there is no guarantee as to how much aid they can receive from government, and more importantly, when, if at all. 
What is heartrending is that typhoon victims in the adjacent town of Javier have already received the government support early this year, presumably because the mayor happens to be national president of the League of Municipalities. Perhaps Secretary Dinky Soliman is unaware of the issue, but the longer it takes the DSWD to distribute the government aid, the deeper the victims will be in debt. It’s been almost two years since Yolanda struck - asking victims to wait a little longer is probably no longer justifiable.

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