Lacson sees ‘haggling’ for projects in DPWH budget
MANILA, Philippines — Sen. Panfilo Lacson on Friday said “haggling” for infrastructure projects by some members of the House of Representatives may have been the reason a P469-billion lump-sum appropriation reappeared in the proposed budget of the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) for next year.
Lacson, however, admitted that “there’s no way of validating” the information he received from someone familiar with the crafting of the P4.5-trillion National Expenditure Program (NEP) for 2021 that Malacanang had presented to Congress.
He did not identify his source or the representatives.
He said the delay in the DPWH’s submission of its planned spending prompted the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) to include thousands of infrastructure projects that had already been funded and implemented by the government in this year’s NEP.
“(House members were) haggling for projects to be pre-inserted or embedded in the NEP as a new scheme resorted to by some (congressmen) in their effort to avoid being detected during deliberations in Congress, especially in the Senate,” Lacson told the Inquirer in a Viber message.
Lacson said this “scheme” was first disclosed in 2018 by then Camarines Sur Rep. Rolando Andaya Jr., who had accused then Budget Secretary Benjamin Diokno of “inserting” about P75 billion in the P3.8-trillion national budget for 2019.
Andaya, then the House appropriations committee chair, claimed that Diokno funneled the funds to the DPWH without the knowledge of Public Works Secretary Mark Villar.
Lacson noted that Budget Secretary Wendell Avisado owned up to the errors in the expenditure plan of the DPWH during the first two budget hearings of the Senate and promised the senators to make corrections.
Source of kickbacks
The senator, who had locked horns with some House members over pork barrel, could again tangle with several of them with his latest statement.
He had stated that lump-sum allocations for infrastructure programs were a common source of kickbacks for lawmakers, who usually used their influence to award state-funded projects to their favored contractors.
In 2013, the Supreme Court had declared as unconstitutional all lump-sum appropriations officially known as Priority Development Assistance Fund, or pork barrel, for lawmakers’ pet projects.
“My source in DBM told us that the reason for the hasty submission of the erroneous appropriations (in) the 2021 NEP was the late submission of the DPWH. For what reason (there was a delay), I don’t know,” Lacson said in a television interview earlier on Friday.
During the Senate budget hearing on Wednesday, Lacson quizzed Avisado on the “reappropriations” of many DPWH projects.
The questionable items he found included over P396 billion worth of projects that were lodged as lump-sum appropriations in the DPWH central office and another P73 billion covering 2,933 projects, including some that were to get as much as 50 percent of the original allocation.
Du30 intel fund
Lacson, a former national police chief who has made the scrutiny of the annual budget his personal advocacy, also said he would review President Duterte’s own request for an intelligence fund of P2.25 billion, which is smaller than this year’s P4.5 billion.
The scrutiny would be a break from the tradition of approving with hardly any questions such budget request for the Office of the President, which is exempt from the usual strict audit by the Commission on Audit.
“(It’s) a little lower (compared to last year), but still a bit too much,” Lacson said.
He noted that the President had control over other the intelligence funds of the entire bureaucracy. “But maybe it’s time to really ask,” he said. “How do they spend that? That’s the question.”
Lacson said poring over thousands of documents on the annual spending plan had made him lose sleep because “studying is really taxing.”
He said corruption-prone projects such as dredging and flood control had persisted even under the administration of Mr. Duterte, who promised to stop corruption within the first six months of his term.
He expressed support for “big ticket” projects which are at the core of the administration’s Build, Build, Build program.
“But the preventive maintenance of secondary roads, farm-to-market roads and the like should not be considered anymore. These are sources of corruption like dredging and flood control projects,” he said.
P150B for flood control
A similar concern was expressed by Sen. Grace Poe on Thursday.
She questioned the P150 billion allocated for the government’s flood control program, which was bigger than the P131.22 billion budget for the Department of Health.
“Since COVID-19 is still present, one will assume that improving our health facilities would be the priority,” said Poe.
She said she understood that factors affecting the environment should not be neglected, and legitimate flood control projects should be funded.
“But as you know there are few flood control projects that are questionable because it’s very hard to keep track of them if they were really done,” she added.
At the House, Samar Rep. Edgar Mary Sarmiento filed a bill requiring at least 10 percent of all funds for local infrastructure projects to be earmarked for labor-intensive work to help thousands who had lost their jobs during the pandemic.
The chair of the House transportation panel said his House Bill No. 7591 could provide the “much-needed lifeline” for many Filipinos, especially overseas Filipino workers whose contracts were not renewed and those who lost their jobs and forced to return to their home provinces.
The measure will ensure the employment of “extra hands who would do minor construction work for related infrastructure projects.”
The jobs may also include rehabilitation or improvement of community amenities such as foot paths, small-scale water supply systems, and sanitation facilities.
“The bill aims to address two pressing concerns. First, it will address unemployment. Second, it will benefit the community as the infrastructure projects are communal,” Sarmiento said. —with reports from DJ Yap and Leila B. Salaverria
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.