Villar open to new probe body but defends task force he formed

    (From left) Ang, Public Works Secretary Mark Villar, Transportation Secretary Arthur Tugade and Muntinlupa Mayor Jaime Fresnedi  lead  the re-opening ceremonies of the third at-grade lane of the Skyway and inauguration of a new, two-lane steel ramp connecting the Alabang viaduct to the elevated Skyway.
    Villar with DOTr Secretary Tugade and other officials. (Photo by PNA)

    PUBLIC Works Secretary Mark Villar yesterday welcomed suggestions for an independent body to investigate alleged corruption in the Department of Public Works and Highways even as he defended the integrity and independence of the Task Force against Graft and Corruption (TAG) that he recently formed to look into alleged irregularities in the department.

    Villar, in an interview with CNN Philippines, said he expects the task force to come up with a report on its findings and recommendations “in the next month or so.”

    “We welcome anything that will increase transparency, any help that anyone’s willing to give is more than welcome,” he said as he acknowledged concerns about the credibility of the DPWH Task Force that would investigate its own officials and employees.

    Presidential spokesman Harry Roque on Wednesday acknowledged concerns about “the same people investigating one another” and said it is “not inconceivable” that President Duterte will form an independent body to investigate the agency, similar to what he did when he ordered the investigations of the Philippine Health Insurance Corporation.

    Villar said the task force was created to strengthen anti-graft and corruption measures already in place in the DPWH, such as its website that lists and geo-tags projects nationwide being undertaken and completed by the department.

    He also said the creation of the task force is part of efforts to institutionalize changes in DPWH.

    He said he put in the task force high-ranking officials he trusts and who are independent-minded. He said the TAG chairman, Assistant Secretary Mel John Verzosa, is “non-organic” to the agency. He said Verzosa, who was appointed to his post in January this year, is a lawyer who did not come from the ranks or part of the regular employees of the agency.

    The President has said every project at the DPWH involved some illegal transaction and that most of the corruption involved some department engineers and those in charge of right-of-way deals.

    DPWH, along with the Bureau of Internal Revenue and the Bureau of Customs, topped the list of the most corrupt departments and agencies of the government, according to the Presidential Anti-Corruption Commission.