LEGAZPI CITY—The Albay First District Engineering Office used to enjoy operating with an enormous budget for infrastructure development which, a lawmaker claimed, catapulted the district to be the top district in the region during the early-1990s.
Today, the Albay First District Engineering—once dubbed by the Bureau of Maintenance as the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) model district—would be operating at the mercy of its 2017 budget after Malacañang announced last December that Albay First District is among the 20 congressional districts stripped of allocations for infrastructure program in the 2018 General Appropriation Act.
Minus P2 billion in its 2018 budget, the Albay First District Engineering began the first working day of the year without its close to 200 casual employees that usually packed the district office at the Legazpi Airport Site here.
Rep. Edcel Lagman of the First District of Albay, was then-President Cory Aquino’s deputy budget secretary who resigned to become Albay congressman in 1987. With enormous infrastructure funds pouring into his district, Lagman, who was negotiating a bid for his third term, proclaimed he had made his district No. 1.
For many old DPWH officials in Bicol, Lagman was a leading Bicolano lawmaker in producing pork- barrel funds. His continuing close rapport with Presidents Fidel V. Ramos, Joseph E. Estrada, Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and Benigno S. Aquino III made his district engineering virtually one of the busiest.
Early October last year, however, the Albay First District Engineering, accused of having delayed projects, was put in the limelight again after it was exposed in social media about having a “secret and mysterious road project” inside the Mayon Volcano danger zone. The controversial project was comprised of an initial four roads, which the Department of Environment and Natural Resources immediately ordered stopped without an Environmental Clearance Certificate and cutting permit. The project was also discovered to have intruded into the Mayon Protected Area.
The Save Mayon Movement alleged the Mayon road project—defended later by proponents as ecotourism and infra-development—formed part of the proposed P7-billion Mayon circumferential road that started in the villages of the towns of Bacacay, Malilipot and Tabaco City, all in Albay’s First District.
Following the DENR stoppage order, district engineer Simon Arias and his construction chief, Cesar Sanorjo, claimed they were only constructing farm-to-market roads and virtually denied any knowledge about the proposed P7-billion Mayon circumferential road project. They admitted the project was started as early as June 2017.
A separate probe from the Sangguniang Panlalawigan Committee on Urban Housing and Land Use resulted to the issuance of a unanimously approved resolution in December 2017 banning any infrastructure projects around Mayon in support of the DENR action and the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology bid to strictly enforce the law on Mayon as “a no man’s land” covering the declared 6-kilometer Permanent Danger Zone from the summit.
Board member Howard Sim Imperial, chairman of the committee on Housing and Land Use, said he had received information that the DPWH had lined up projects for the Mayon road construction.
Save Mayon founding member Cesar Banares assailed the DPWH for “bowing to pressures to implement non-priority projects.”