By Ali G. Macabalang
COTABATO CITY – Media exposes on sad conditions of national highways in the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM) have prompted both the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) and the Ministry of Public Works (MPW) to provide temporary remedies to cumbersome lack of specific funds to improve and maintain such main road arteries.
Architect Eduard Guerra, MPW Minister, announced on Sept. 1 that his office had submitted a communiqué to the DPWH central office, and that he had instructed his district offices to stretch the use of their available funds for the maintenance of national roads within their respective jurisdictions.
On Sept. 4, DPWH Undersecretary Eugenio Pipo Jr. and Assistant Secretary Ador Canlas (for regional operations) flew to Koronadal City and conferred with Regional 12 Director Basir Ibrahim and South Cotabato District Engineer Khalil Sultan, the Philippine Muslim Today (PMT) news learned on Sunday.
The PMT got words from field DPWH personnel about the basic nature of the meeting, but they later backtracked due to purported standing order that only their central officials are authorized to talk about the lingering issue concerning the lack of national subsidies for maintenance and improvement of national highways and bridges in the autonomous region.
Before the visit of Pipo and Canlas, it was learned that DPWH-Sultan Kudarat District Engineer Amer Pundag led his workers in filling up holes along the highway of Buluan, Maguindanao and patching of road holes in nearby Datu Paglas town would immediately follow, the PMT also learned.
The PMT earlier gathered from Director Ibrahim that his office has no allocations for maintenance of roads and bridges outside Region 12. Interested parties can examine the fiscal records of DWH-12, and “if they find even a single cent (allocated for BARMM areas), I will resign instantly,” Ibrahim once told the PMT news.
“As a Bangsamoro professional, I am also concerned about the problem,” Ibrahim said, noting that the issue is now in the hands of higher authorities.
Since the formal creation of BARMM, the DPWH has stopped downloading funds to its field offices for maintenance of national highways in Lanao del Sur, Maguindanao, Basilan, Sulu and Tawi-Tawi because a mechanism would be crafted and institutionalized by the Inter-Governmental Relations Body (IGRB), it was learned.
Lull on IGRB infra sector concern
According to PMT news verifications, the IGRB has not yet convened a meeting on the infrastructure cluster sector.
The IGRB, co-chaired by Education Minister Mohagher Iqbal for BARMM and Finance Secretary Sonny Dominguez for the national government, is mandated under the Bangsamoro Organic Law (BOL) or R.A. 11054 to facilitate the devolution to the autonomous government the powers, functions and assets of national line agencies.
The IGRB has so far facilitated the initial devolution of functions and assets of some line agencies, excluding the DPWH because BARMM created the MPW, which does not cater to national roads and bridges, the PMT learned.
Pending the lull on IGRB deliberation of the infra sector cluster, Minister Guerra had repeatedly asked the DPWH central office to download maintenance funds but received no favorable reply, said Avila Abubakar, Maguindanao 1st district engineer. Thus, MPW has no funds for national road and bridge maintenance in 2020 and 2021.
The Bangsamoro Press Corps (BPC) tackled in the first two episodes of its “Tapatan” forum every Saturday the ills of lack of maintenance funds for BARMM highways.
The PMT news also exposed in print and online editions the sad state of highway sections in Sultan Kudarat (SK), Maguindanao and Lanao del Sur. It posted photos of tall grasses as high as two meters on Lanao Sur highways and crater-like holes along SK town.
On instruction of Minister Guerra, DE Abubakar said his workers scraped off dilapidated asphalt layers along the SK highway, even as he posted photos showing the road section in better condition nowadays.
The PMT news tried but failed to get reports from the MPW district offices in Lanao del Sur on their remedial efforts in tall grasses-studded sections of areas in their respective jurisdictions.
In the Sept. 4 episode of the “Tapatan with PBC” forum, House Deputy Speaker and former Regional Governor Mujiv Hataman called for collective efforts to persuade the IGRB into convening a meeting to craft a mechanism for regular maintenance and improvement services on BARMM national highways.
“Dapat itanong sa IGRB hanggangg saan ang naabot nila sa usaping lack of maintenance funds,” Hataman said. (AGM)
(Attached are photos of national highway sections in Sultan Kudarat, Maguindanao looking better after holes-studded asphalt layers were scraped off, of the original state of such a section, and of tall grasses along the shouldering of circumferential highway portions of Lanao del Sur.)