For most people, it has become second nature not to expect too much from the Department of Public Works and Highways, often tagged by surveys as the most corrupt government agency in the Philippines.
So, it came as a complete surprise even for the jaded of observers to learn that DPWH Secretary Manuel Bonoan has issued an order directing DPWH implementing offices from the regions to the districts to undertake tree planting activities for flood control contracts.
The move is aimed at strengthening compliance with the National Greening Program, promoting environmental sustainability and as part of the Climate Change Adaptation and Mitigation Program of the DPWH, which has already a Tree Replacement Program for contracts which affect forestlands or roadside trees.
Under Department Order No. 238 issued on Nov. 21, 2022, all implementing offices are required to plant 1,000 seedlings or trees for contracts with at least P5 million contract amount and an additional 1,000 seedlings or trees for every additional P5 million contract amount.
The Tribune managed to secure a copy of the flood control projects allocated to Catanduanes in 2023 so as to get an idea of how the DPWH order would impact the island’s environment.
As the smallest of the six Bicol provinces and no thanks to the fund-scrounging effort of the district representative, Catanduanes only got a total of P995 million for the construction, rehabilitation and maintenance of flood mitigation structures and drainage systems.
Of this amount, only P105 million will be bid out in the local DPWH district office while P890 million will be implemented by the regional office.
The entire funding consists of only six projects, giving the public an idea of the money that goes into the contracts.
The largest funding of P400 million will go to the construction of a road dike along Hitoma River in Caramoran while the smallest is P5 million each for three flood control projects.
Based on the funding allocations, an initial 199,000 tree seedlings will be planted in Catanduanes by the flood control contractors next year.
The number of seedlings to be planted would probably pale in comparison to those planted during those years when the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) gave out juicy contracts to certain entities on the island for the growing and planting of tree seedlings.
Then, farmers were paid a pittance to grow the seedlings, which were then planted in isolated areas nobody from the government visited to check if they survived or not.
But at least, this time, there is a chance to make sure that the implementing agency would do it right.
There is a lot of promise in this significant contribution of the graft-ridden agency, often seen as legislators’ milking cow, to the national effort to preserve the dwindling forest reserves.
But then, there is the danger that certain DPWH personnel and LGU executives might see this novel tree planting program as a scheme to squeeze more money from contractors through table inspections of ghost seedlings.
Perhaps, the involvement of non-government organizations and water districts in the program might deter the evil doers.