GENERAL SANTOS City– The Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) in Region 12 has temporarily suspended the development of a vital road network at an upland village in South Cotabato following a landmine attack by suspected New People’s Army (NPA) rebels last week that left three people dead.
Reynaldo Tamayo, DPWH Region 12 director, said Monday they stopped all development works involving the P80 million Surallah-Lake Sebu road project pending the resolution of the area’s security problems.
He said the project’s private contractor Gemma Construction Corp. has pulled out from the area following the killing of one of its engineers in an attack staged by NPA rebels at the construction site in Sitio Lamsuguing, Barangay Upper Sepaka in Surallah town last July 9.
Two alleged NPA rebels were reported killed while three other militiamen were wounded in an ensuing firefight.
“We have no choice but to temporarily stop the project as the private contractor has already left the site due to concerns regarding the security of its personnel,” Tamayo said in a radio interview.
The official said he already reported and endorsed the matter to the Office of DPWH Secretary Rogelio Singson for appropriate actions.
He said their main concern at the moment is the possibility of a complete pullout from the project of Gemma Construction due to the volatile security situation at the site.
The affected road project, which is one of the identified priorities of DPWH-12, is a component of the Surallah to Barangay Ned, Lake Sebu road network.
Barangay Ned is considered as one of the remotest barangays of the province and a potential growth area for agribusiness and mining ventures.
Tamayo said that prior to the July 9 incident, the road project is already 20 percent complete and with around four kilometers already opened and paved.
He said they were supposed to start the construction next month a bridge component that will connect the town proper of Lake Sebu to the area.
“We really feel bad for the area’s residents who have long been dreaming of this project’s completion,” Tamayo said.
For her part, South Cotabato Gov. Daisy Avance-Fuentes said they are considering a possible takeover of the project by personnel from the Philippine Army’s Engineering Brigade.
She said the Army engineers are the only viable option in case the private contractor will later decide to totally pull out from the project.
“Our private contractor will really have a hard time completing this project since they don’t have enough capacity to secure their personnel and equipment,” she said.
The governor said that based on the information they received from concerned individuals, the NPA rebels have reportedly extorting revolutionary taxes from Gemma Construction and other companies working on some government projects in the area.
She said the rebels were supposedly mulcting the contractors as much as three percent of a project’s total cost.
Fuentes said the same problem is being faced by private contractors assigned on road projects under the Payapa at Masaganang Pamayanan or PAMANA Program in T’boli town.
“We will request that our Army engineers will instead take over with the implementation of road projects in our upland areas to address these problems,” she added. pna