Lacson flags P469 billion in repeat funding for DPWH projects | Inquirer News
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Lacson flags P469 billion in repeat funding for DPWH projects

By: - Reporter / @MRamosINQ
/ 05:30 AM September 10, 2020

MANILA, Philippines — Sen. Panfilo “Ping” Lacson on Wednesday raised the red flag on P469 billion worth of infrastructure projects that had already been financed by the government for implementation this year but were again funded in the proposed P4.5-trillion national budget for 2021, saying this contravened the 1987 Constitution.

Lacson asked Budget Secretary Wendel Avisado to remove the questionable items from the 2021 National Expenditure Program (NEP), which was presented by President Duterte’s economic managers to the Senate finance committee, chaired by Sen. Sonny Angara.

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Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon and Sen. Risa Hontiveros also questioned the government’s priorities, noting that the budget for the anti-insurgency campaign was bigger than the allotment for departments tasked with leading the recovery from the debilitating effects of the COVID-19 pandemic to the economy.

Lump-sum appropriations

Lacson, whose scrutiny of the government’s yearly budget had saved billions of pesos from being gobbled up in corruption, said more than P396 billion of the proposed allocation was lodged as lump-sum appropriations in the central office of the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH).

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He said another P73 billion worth of DPWH projects, covering a total of 2,933 items, had been “reappropriated” with incremental amounts, with some getting as much as 50 percent of the original allocation.

“Why is this so and how did this happen? Primarily because of the constitutional issues involved, I don’t think we should allow this when we finally pass the budget measure before yearend,” Lacson told Mr. Duterte’s economic team at the budget hearing.

“These would easily fall under the Supreme Court [decision] … that ruled that these are lump-sum appropriations and therefore, patently illegal,” he said.

One of the projects was a road in Southern Leyte, which received a total of P100 million for 2020 but was allocated with another P42 million for next year.

Another was a provincial road connecting Pangasinan and La Union, which already got P6.5 million this year but was given P650,000 more in the latest spending program.

Lacson said this could be the first time that infrastructure projects of the DPWH and the Department of Transportation (DOTr) were getting “reappropriations” in his years of reviewing the annual budget measure as a legislator.

DPWH budget late

“[This is] the first time [it happened], or at least [the] first time to be discovered. I’m still trying to find an explanation [for it],” Lacson told the Inquirer.

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“If it’s lump sum, we know that [a project] is unimplementable because there are no items corresponding to the amounts appropriated,” he said.

Lacson said he received information that the DPWH had actually failed to present to the economic team and the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) its expenditure plan within the prescribed 30-day period.

He said this prompted the DBM to “simply submit what now appears to be reappropriations” for projects that had already been budgeted.

“Worse, the remainder of the appropriations for those items are lodged in the central office [of the DPWH] as lump-sum appropriations, hence unconstitutional,” Lacson said.

“My worry is that it might result in insertions by some legislators that will be embedded in the corrected NEP,” he added.

Responding to Lacson’s queries, Avisado said the lockdowns to contain the new coronavirus prevented the DOTr, DPWH and other state agencies from completing the projects on time.

He said Public Works Secretary Mark Villar submitted the list of projects that needed partial funding for these to be finished by next year.

‘Relisting of projects’

“That’s why there’s a relisting of the projects and the balance was provided appropriations precisely to complete the projects as brought out in the [budget] this year. That’s really the reason. That’s why there’s a repeat of the projects listed,” Avisado said.

But Lacson said Avisado’s explanation would violate the Supreme Court’s July 2014 decision that struck down the Disbursement Acceleration Program and similar budgeting system as unconstitutional, and the constitutional provision on the realignment of national budget.

“If there’s no discontinuance [of the budget] by reasons stated under the Supreme Court ruling, you cannot declare portions [of the appropriations] as savings. You [may] realign the whole item as funded, but you cannot pull out an increment [of the allocation],” he said.

“And to repeat, only savings can be realigned,” he added.

Lacson then asked Avisado to “excise” from the Senate version of the budget measure the projects that had already been funded for 2020 and for the DPWH to present its revised list of infrastructure projects for 2021.

“Yes, we will coordinate with Secretary Villar on this matter and submit what is necessary in compliance and accordance with your observations,” Avisado said.

Drilon called out the President’s economic team for setting aside more than P19 billion for the government’s anti-insurgency program under the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict amid the pandemic.

He warned that the public funds might be used for partisan politics in the run-up to the 2022 national elections since P16.4 billion of the budget would be allocated for the Barangay Development Program.

“Next year is an election year and here is a secretariat that will be playing god to the requests of the barangays. When you have a system like this, it can be clearly used for political purposes,” Drilon said.

“Are we saying that communist insurgency will be a bigger threat than the high unemployment, the loss of jobs of our [migrant workers], the shutdown of our entire tourism industry and the closure of tens of thousands of small businesses?” he asked.

Drilon noted that the budget for the anti-insurgency program dwarfed the proposed P3.5-billion budget of the Department of Tourism and even the P15.9-billion allocation for the Department of Labor and Employment next year.

Hontiveros said the 2021 spending program was “not aligned” with the full implementation of the universal health care law, signed last year by the President to provide free health insurance for all Filipinos.

Fifth priority

She lamented that the Department of Health and the scandal-wracked Philippine Health Insurance Corp. had a combined proposed budget of only P204 billion, making them only fifth among the departments with the highest allocations. (See related story on this page.)

“I just wanted to point out that our health budget cannot be just the fifth in our priority amid a pandemic. Our budget for surveillance for COVID-19 is not sufficient,” Hontiveros said.

“COVID-19 is a litmus test for the implementation of the [universal health care law] and for the strengthening and raising … the capacity of our health-care system for the long term in preparation for another possible pandemic or health crisis,” she said.

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TAGS: 2021 DPWH budget, 2021 national budget, DBM, Panfilo Lacson, repeat funding, Wendel Avisado
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