MANILA -- The Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) cancelled 19 flood control projects of the previous administration due to questionable date of negotiations.

The projects contracts were concluded, negotiated, and signed-off last June 18, less than two weeks before the term of former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo expired, Public Works Secretary Rogelio Singson said on Wednesday.

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But Singson added that the Special Allotment Release Order (Saro), the allotment releases by the Department of Budget and Management, was only issued on June 25.

"The contracts were signed even before the letter of authority was released," he said, adding that the undertakings were earlier approved without a public bidding.

With this, the DPWH chief created a four-man team, headed by Undersecretary Jamie Pacanan, tasked to investigate the people behind the contract.

Amounting to P934 million, the 19 flood control projects included: La Trinidad, Bokod, Itogonon and Bugilas, Benguet Sabangan, Mt. Province and Tabuk, Kalinga worth P53,065,412.74 and under contract with Ferdstar Builders Contractors; Ilocos Norte worth P35,111,912.02 under A. De Guia Construction; Sitio Departe Barangay Bantog, Asingan, Pangasinan worth P91,493,729.45 under Tokwing Construction; Sitio Bato, Barangay San Vicente, San Manuel, Pangasinan worth P228,749,682.31 under Northern Builders; Camalaniogan and Sta. Praxedes, Cagayan worth P25,845,331.01 under M.M. Construction; Paitan Section Bay and Bambang, Nueva Vizcaya worth P68,617,154.18 under Royal Crown Monarch Construction and Supply; Sta. Fe, Kayapa and Dupax Del Sur, Nueva Vizcaya worth P27,416,017.95 under Christian Ian Construction, Corp.; Paombong and San Jose Del Monte City, Bulacan worth P9,139,201.72 under PON Construction; Province of Bulacan worth P41,114,825,65 under Northern Builders; San Felipe and Iba, Zambales worth P42,542,444.58 under Tokwing Construction; San Marcelino, Zambales worth P19,195,055.26 of Arrowhead Construction; Arayat, Pampanga with P77,315,428.96 of L.R. Tiqui Builders, Inc.; Candaba, Pampanga - P78,714,659.59 under Northern Builders; Barangay Bodega Section, Floridablanca, Pampanga - P27,447,484.14 under Northern Builders; Guagua and Lubao, Pampanga - P16,451,747.20 of LR Tiqui Builders, Inc.; Moncada and Bamban, Tarlac - P32,015,365.91 under RA Pahati Gravel and Sand and LSD Construction and Supplies; Aliaga, Nueva Ecija - P18,292,974.84 under LR Tiqui Builders, Inc.; Bungabon and San Leonardo, Nueva Ecija - P19,191,123.52 under Royal Crown Monarch Construction and Supply; and Balayan and Lemery, Batangas worth P22,388,000 under AD Construction.

These projects were listed as "Post Ondoy and Pepeng Short-Term Infrastructure" in cooperation with Japan International Cooperation Agency (Jica).

Singson said that the cancelled projects were among the alleged anomalous transactions involving 86 Jica-funded undertakings worth P3.5 billion, which happened just two weeks before the end of the Arroyo administration.

Food program

Meanwhile, the Department of Education (DepEd) is planning to revive the Food-for-School Program (FSP) this school year to reach out to more children and their families, particularly in impoverished areas of the country.

Education Secretary Armin Luistro said they are currently in discussion with the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) and the Department of Agriculture (DA) on how to proceed with the program.

"Pinag-uusapan pa namin ang programa. Ang bagong player lang dito is the Agriculture department dahil dati na nating kasama ang DSWD (Talks are ongoing about the program. The new player here is the DA because we have partnered with DSWD before)," Luistro said.

The DepEd chief also said they would make sure that the program results to less wastage of resources and plugs the holes, especially where the rice, the main component of the program, should go.

"We're looking at a different program dahil gagawin namin itong community-based at inter-agency program para mas epektibo (We will make this a community-based and inter-agency program for it to be more effective)," Luistro added.

Earlier, Social Welfare Secretary Corazon "Dinky" Soliman said the Aquino government is reviewing the program implemented first by the previous administration after they discovered "leakages" in the distribution of rice supplies to the beneficiaries.

The program was launched by the DepEd in 2004 under the Accelerated Hunger Mitigation Plan in a bid to arrest the hunger incidence and malnutrition among school children in poor areas of the country.

A daily ration of a kilogram of fortified rice from the National Food Authority (NFA) is given as subsidy to families through preschool and Grade 1 pupils.

But a Commission on Audit (COA) report three years ago found out that the program has become untenable as teachers ended up spending money out of their own pocket to help defray the cost of the distribution of rice.

Higher education budget sought

Meanwhile, the Commission on Higher Education (Ched) said it will be asking for a bigger budget in 2011 not only for itself but also for the 110 state universities and colleges (SUCs) in various parts of the country.

"Definitely I will be looking into that. Alam naman natin ang daming problema sa higher education (We know we have plenty of problems in higher education)," Ched Chairperson Patricia Licuanan said.

But Licuanan said she could not still give the exact figure on the additional amount they will be asking next year as she is still consulting with stakeholders on the issue.

Aside from a higher allocation, Licuanan said she will also work for the promotion of research, faculty development, genuine and rigorous accreditation as well as ensuring creative and effective means to provide access to poor students.

Licuanan's predecessor, Emmanuel Angeles, earlier said the government needs to spend at least P40 billion to upgrade the quality of higher education and make it at par with the rest of the world.

The amount will be on top of the regular annual funding that the commission gets from Congress and will be used not only to upgrade facilities and equipment in colleges and universities but also provide for scholarships for students and teachers alike.

Angeles also said if the present trend continues and no intervention is done, it would take about 10-20 years to rehabilitate the country's higher education sector.

The government has allocated P26.37 billion for higher education, including SUCs this academic year or 12.91 percent of the total allocation of P204.32 billion for education.

But state subsidy for higher education has continuously declined from 84.14 percent in 2001 to this year's 67.25.

Overall, allocation for SUCs has been slashed by 13 percent (P3.2 billion) in this year's budget.

Based on the 2010 National Expenditure Program, the bulk of SUCs projected income of P10.2 billion will be sourced from tuition fees (P4.59 billion) and other income collected from students (P2.23 billion). (FP/AH/Sunnex)