Lawmakers, DBM clash over canceled projects
Fearing that their pet projects would lose funding because of the government’s response to the COVID-19 crisis, congressmen are demanding that the country’s economic managers explain how they decided on budget realignments.
Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano said on Friday that he and other House leaders had questions on whether the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) was “canceling the right projects” to be diverted to the COVID-19 effort.
In March, Congress passed a law allowing President Duterte to discontinue projects and realign items in the 2019 and 2020 budget for COVID-19.
That enabled Mr. Duterte to tap at least P275 billion worth of funding, including some P200 billion in emergency cash aid for poor families over a two-month period.
Cayetano, however, said congressmen had questions on the “reprioritization” of fund allocations for COVID-19 since the enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) has been extended in Metro Manila and other at-risk regions but lifted in others.
“Congress will also be looking into the 2019 and 2020 budget to see if the government and DBM is canceling the right project or if there’s logic or algorithm in their sourcing of funds,” he told reporters in a chance interview.
“Remember, there’s life after COVID or life after ECQ … but it still means that development should be spread out in every corner of the country. So, for example, if you cancel a project for a hospital or health center, that goes against our priorities right now,” Cayetano said.“We really have projects that are affected and we need to make sacrifices, but we also have priorities,” he said.
“I disagree with Secretary (Wendel) Avisado that they cannot cancel or take away [projects] from [regions that already received general relief. If that’s their attitude, then why did we have to pass the Bayanihan to Heal as One Act?” he added.
Cayetano did not mention specific projects that congressmen wanted canceled or retained.
Earlier this month, the President discontinued about P31 billion worth of infrastructure projects originally earmarked for lawmakers’ districts under the 2020 budget and diverted the money to a COVID-19 fund for cash assistance to local government units.
Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea, in an April 6 memo to Avisado, said the President approved the “Bayanihan Grant to Cities and Municipalities” to boost their capacity to address the outbreak.
The grant was to be sourced from the “discontinuance of P30.824 billion worth of infrastructure projects of the Department of Public Works and Highways classified ‘for later release’ under the 2020 General Appropriations Act.”
That amount is believed to be part of the P84 billion in funds that congressmen realigned in the 2020 budget but were later “withheld” and classified “for later release” by the DBM pending a review of documentary requirements.
The DBM’s withholding of the lawmakers’ pet projects angered House leaders, with some blaming then House appropriations panel chair, Davao City Rep. Isidro Ungab.
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