In early 2017, Philippine economic managers launched “Build, Build, Build,” an PhP8.4 trillion (USD159 billion) program touted to usher in the “golden age of infrastructure” under the President Rodrigo R. Duterte’s administration. PCIJ’s investigation into the program yielded the findings below:
1. Contractors with checkered histories have emerged as the Top 10 winners of the biggest civil-works contracts awarded from July 2016 to December 2017 under Duterte. Three had been suspended or blacklisted, including one for submitting fake tax clearance certificates. One had its corporate registration revoked. Officers of four others are facing trial for alleged graft. Two have direct connections to politicians, some had sealed deals via financial favors exchanged with certain politicians. All also share a record of incomplete or bad projects, and unsatisfactory ratings in some project performance evaluations.
2. From P19 billion in 2016, the budget for infrastructure for Davao Region, Duterte’s bailiwick, increased to P43 billion in 2017. The region’s 119-percent increase in its civil-works budget is exceedingly skewed compared with the just the 86.8-percent composite increase in the infra budget of other regions for the same period.
3. Top contractors in Davao Region include two entities owned by the father and the half-brother of the former Special Assistant to the President, Christopher Lawrence ‘Bong’ Tesoro Go: CLTG Builders and Alfrego Builders and Supply. CLTG Builders stood out in PCIJ’s research because all of its joint-venture projects with big contractors in 2017 failed to complete projects by the original deadline.
4. Forty-three contractors currently facing suspension over delayed projects and all 10 contractors are under investigation by the DPWH for various reasons. But DPWH has been slow to complete its investigation into their alleged irregular conduct or poor performance. As of July 2018, more than 400 delayed projects.
What makes this project innovative?
The research for this series started with a tip about Bong Go’s family being one of the top contractors in Davao. As most investigations go, we cannot just rely on one source’s claim. We needed to verify the information through other sources, including documents, interviews, and fieldwork. Upon analyzing procurement data, we were able to confirm that Go’s father was indeed a top contractor, and that many of the firm’s projects were not being completed on time. But we had to delve deeper and tell the bigger story of public interest – not just conflict of interest. Looking at the investigation through an open contracting lens led us to investigate the entire procurement process, from planning to implementation. In the end, the series titled “‘Build, Build, Build’ hits choke points,” not only uncovered Go’s family business but also the systemic problems hounding DPWH, which resulted in questionable firms winning contracts and multi-billion worth of projects getting delayed. One of the reporting challenges we also encountered was the lack of expertise in the procurement process which can be very technical. To address this, we reached out to procurement experts and former government officials who provided valuable inputs in the stories. Access to information from the key agency DPWH also became a problem but we were able to find our way around it by looking at the paper trail to see which other agencies might have a copy of the information we’re looking for. Too, doing the fieldwork in Davao, seeing the projects for ourselves, and interviewing residents greatly helped in completing the story.
What was the impact of your project? How did you measure it?
Through this series, PCIJ has contributed to raising awareness on project delays and potential corruption in DPWH contracts in context of the much-lauded “Build, Build, Build” program of the government. The reports uncovered massive delays, questionable contractors, and inefficiencies within DPWH. The DPWH series is by far the most shared stories of PCIJ last year. It also triggered several follow-up reports from several news organizations. On Sept. 12, 2018, Senator Antonio Trillanes IV initiated a Senate inquiry into the anomalous contracts awarded to the firm of former Presidential Assistant Christopher Lawrence T. Go’s father. Go is now running for senator in the May 2019 midterm elections.
Source and methodology
The key data (awarded contracts) used in the series were obtained through an FOI request made with the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH). The data is actually publicly available on the DPWH website. Please see http://www.dpwh.gov.ph/dpwh/business/procurement/civil_works/awarded_contracts. But this is not in open-data format and difficult to analyze so we had to make the request. Apart from awarded contracts data, PCIJ also reviewed the list of blacklisting reports of the Government Procurement Policy Board (GPPB); list of licensed contractors of the Philippine Contractors Accreditation Board (PCAB); suspension orders of DPWH; corporate documents filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC); case files at the Sandiganbayan anti-graft court; records of candidates and campaign donors of the Commission on Elections (Comelec); Construction Performance Evaluation System (CPES) reports; and Philippine Government Electronic Procurement System (PhilGEPS) records. PCIJ conducted a weeklong fieldwork in Davao and interviewed DPWH officials, residents, and contractors. We saw the delayed road projects. As a matter of practice, PCIJ also secured all of the concerned officials’ and subjects’ responses before publication and included them in the reports. Apart from including their comments in the narratives, PCIJ also dedicated two stories on the subjects’ responses and how we got them.
Microsoft Excel, Navicat (MySQL), data visualization applications
John Antiquerra, Carolyn Arguillas, Cecile Balgos, Fern Felix, Karol Ilagan, Yzabel Layson, Vino Lucero, Malou Mangahas, Mildred Mira, Alyssa Rafael