Duterte still trusts Secretary Villar despite 'rampant' corruption in DPWH – Palace

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Public Works Secretary Mark Villar (FILE PHOTO)

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, October 15) — Public Works Secretary Mark Villar still enjoys the full trust and confidence of President Rodrigo Duterte despite reportedly rampant corruption within his agency, Malacañang said Thursday.

"Despite the corruption in DPWH naka-deliver po si Secretary Villar [Secretary Villar has delivered]," Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque said when asked about Duterte's Wednesday night rant against the agency.

The President lamented that corruption persists in government, even pinpointing the Department of Public Works and Highways and its contractors as a big source of dirty deals.

"'Yung mga project engineers, iyan lahat, road right-of-way, grabe ang corruption diyan. Walang construction na uumpisa dito na walang transaction [Project engineers, all of them, even the right-of-way, corruption is so rampant there. There's no construction project that starts without an illegal transaction]," the President said.

Villar, a billionaire and the richest member of the Duterte Cabinet as of 2018, remains trustworthy to the President's eyes. He takes charge of implementing road, bridge, and flood control projects, including construction deals worth billions of pesos under the government's "Build, Build, Build" program.

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"It helps na mas marami pang pera ang pamilya ni Secretary Villar kaysa sa DPWH [It helps that Secretary Villar's family has more money than the entire DPWH]," Roque added.

His father, former Senator Manny Villar, is the second-richest in the country with a net worth of $5 billion (about ₱250 billion), according to Forbes. The former senator now runs the family conglomerate Vista Land & Lifescapes.

​In a separate interview, Villar gave a stern warning to corrupt DPWH officials and pledged to clean up the agency.

"'Yung mga corrupt, siyempre kami po ay nakatutok at hahanapin namin kayo. Gagawin namin ang lahat para maging malinis ang government dahil ‘yon po ang layunin ng ating Pangulong Duterte [To the corrupt officials: We will find you, We will do everything to clean up the government because that is President Duterte's goal.]," Villar said in an interview with CNN Philippines.

"We will be more aggressive in monitoring our projects and of course servicing complaints. Kaya kung mayroon pong [If there are] cases of corruption, we welcome any piece of evidence that might help us catch the perpetrators."

Duterte's spokesman added that the President merely wanted to reiterate his anti-corruption drive, one of his campaign promises alongside the war on illegal drugs.

"Ang pangako naman po ng Presidente, igugugol niya talaga itong natitirang panahon para labanan ang korapsyon sa lahat ng departamento ng gobyerno lalung-lalo na siguro po sa PhilHealth at sa DPWH," Roque said, but clarified that Duterte is currently focused on the anomalies in PhilHealth.

[Translation: The President has promised that he will dedicate his remaining time to fight corruption in all government agencies, especially in PhilHealth and in DPWH.]

Former PhilHealth president and chief operating officer Ricardo Morales was finally asked by Duterte to resign in the middle of the corruption probe, but cited the official's medical condition.