Erring Haiyan contractors off the hook?

Paterno Esmaquel II
But Rehabilitation Secretary Panfilo Lacson wants to hold them accountable. He recommends an amendment to a law used as a 'scapegoat.'

'SUBSTANDARD BUNKHOUSES.' Will the government hold erring contractors accountable, or let them off the hook? File photo by LeANNE Jazul

MANILA, Philippines – While Rehabilitation Secretary Panfilo Lacson wants to hold them accountable, contractors who built substandard bunkhouses for Yolanda (Haiyan) survivors beg the government to let them off the hook.

Public Works Secretary Rogelio Singson on Thursday, February 6, said some contractors have requested the government to pay them even a fraction of the bunkhouses’ cost. In exchange, the builders want to leave to the government the task of repairing these.

The government hasn’t paid the erring contractors.

Ngayon, nagmamakaawa ang ibang mga contractors,” Singson said in a Senate hearing Thursday, February 6. (Now, some contractors have appealed to us.)

He said the government is studying this appeal. “Personally, I try to commiserate.”

Singson said these contractors, anyway, took on this task upon the government’s request.

He described some of them as “small contractors” who have even “borrowed money” to help. These contractors did this in the face of limitations, such as having “no materials available,” according to Singson. 

They also built the bunkhouses without having known the international standards. Not even Singson, in fact, knew these standards at first.

“They did help. They constructed as quickly as they can,” he told the Senate public works committee chaired by Sen Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr.

Asked if this means the government will no longer hold them accountable, Singson told Rappler after the hearing: “That’s an assumption na tinanggap ko (that I accepted). That means we will accept the adjusted price, and so on.”

He said some of them, however, “are already correcting the deficiencies.”

These statements came exactly a month after Lacson, the presidential assistant for rehabilitation and recovery, bared allegations of corruption involving a local politician and contractors. (READ: ‘Kickbacks on Haiyan bunkhouses at 30%’)

In an interview on Rappler’s #TalkThursday, Singson denounced allegations of corruption as “unfair” to contractors, among others.

‘Scapegot’ needs amendment

Lacson, in any case, wants to run after erring contractors.

A former senator, he requested the Senate to amend a law that these contractors supposedly use as a “scapegoat.”

This law is the Government Procurement Reform Act, or Republic Act No. 9184.

Under this law, a contractor has 90 days to repair “any defect or damage to the infrastructure projects on account of the use of materials of inferior quality.” The countdown begins after the head of the procuring entity ordered the repair.

The law states: “In case of failure or refusal to comply with this mandate, the government shall undertake such repair works and shall be entitled to full reimbursement of expenses incurred therein upon demand.”

“Any contractor who fails to comply with the preceding paragraph shall suffer perpetual disqualification from participating in any public bidding and his property or properties shall be subject to attachment or garnishment proceedings to recover the costs. All payables of government in his favor shall be offset to recover the costs,” the Procurement Law adds.

Lacson, however, said this provision should be amended because “what if the underspecification was deliberate?” He said, “Why would you give them a chance to repair?” (READ: Gov’t can’t punish erring Haiyan contractors)

In a position paper dated January 28, Lacson told Marcos he wants an amendment “to prevent unscrupulous contractors, government officials, and employees from taking advantage of constructions during disasters by simply refurbishing substandard materials if they get caught.”

Lacson said he will explain his position during the hearing, but he failed to appear because he was sick.

Marcos said amending the law is a “valid suggestion” that the Senate will study. – Rappler.com

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Paterno Esmaquel II

Paterno R. Esmaquel II, news editor of Rappler, specializes in covering religion and foreign affairs. He obtained his MA Journalism degree from Ateneo and later finished MSc Asian Studies (Religions in Plural Societies) at RSIS, Singapore. For story ideas or feedback, email him at pat.esmaquel@rappler.com.