Lacson Pushes Senate Probe into Southrail Overpricing

Noting how many “urgent” projects ended up as excuses for corruption, Sen. Panfilo Lacson sought an investigation into the $70-million overprice in the Southrail project. 

In Senate Resolution No. 302, Lacson said the investigation aims to strengthen the government’s procurement and anti-graft laws.

“Numerous anomalous procurement deals have become a common occurrence in this administration wherein government officials blatantly disregard the rule of law just to further their pecuniary interests,” he said.

The anomaly in the Southrail project came to fore last week, when engineer Rodolfo Noel Lozada Jr., a witness in the $329.5-million ZTE broadband mess, confirmed it. In his testimony, Lozada said some Palace officials were among the beneficiaries of the $70-million overprice in the Southrail project.

Lacson lamented such illegal transactions have only depleted the country’s already limited resources and had diverted much-needed funds from socially relevant projects.

“In light of recent events, it is evident that RA 9184 had become a toothless, if not useless, law in ensuring that the governmental procurement process is free from any irregularities, thus there is an urgent need to revise the provisions of the said law in order to make it more effective and efficient in preventing anomalies in the future,” he said.

“The deliberate actuations of government officials in conniving overpriced contracts manifest their grave disrespect for the provisions of the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act,” he added.

At present, the government is seeking to expedite the completion of eight priority railway projects. Most of these projects involve the interconnection, improvement, upgrading and extension of the existing mass railway systems such as the Light Rail Transit system, the Metro Rail Transit system, and the Northrail and Southrail systems.

The Philippine National Railway (PNR) said the Southrail project will be implemented in two phases. The first phase involves the rehabilitation and reconstruction of the existing 423 km railway line from Calamba, Laguna to Legazpi City, Albay. The second phase will cover the construction of a new 135 km. railway from Comun, Camalig, Albay to Matnog, Sorosogon;

The PNR reported that the estimated total cost of the Southrail project is $932.037 million, including $627.811 for Phase 1 and $304.226 million for Phase 2. PNR also said 95 percent of the project cost or $885.435 million will be funded through a loan from the Export-Import Bank of China.

In July 2007, the National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) and the Ministry of Commerce of China signed a memorandum of understanding for the 542-km Southrail project. Under the agreement, both countries will create a Philippine-China Economic Joint Working Group to track and review the project’s performance.