Lacson: DPWH explanation on realigned P532-B budget ‘won’t fly’
MANILA, Philippines—Officials of the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) should prepare for the uphill task of justifying to the Senate the realignment of at least P532 billion in the department’s budget for infrastructure projects that had already been funded this year, the chamber’s de facto budget inspector said on Monday (Sept. 21).
Sen. Panfilo Lacson also said he would ask the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC) to provide details of P19-billion worth of projects that it planned to distribute to village councils as part of the government’s counterinsurgency program.
The task force was formed to provide a “whole of government” approach to end the insurgency by the time President Rodrigo Duterte steps down in 2022.
Lacson said he would not allow lump-sum items in the proposed P4.5-trillion national budget for 2021, which the Senate had started discussing on Sept. 9.
“When the DPWH budget is up for deliberation in the Senate in October, the agency officials have a lot of explaining to do,” Lacson told the INQUIRER in a Viber message.
“Their explanation regarding reappropriations and lump-sums in their proposed budget won’t fly. Let’s see how they will try to wiggle out of it,” he said.
“We were not born yesterday as far as budgeting is concerned,” he said.
Lacson reiterated that the Supreme Court had already stricken down as unconstitutional the lump-sum allocations in the government’s National Expenditure Program (NEP) as these lacked implementation details.
The senator, who has been waging war on the corruption-laden pork barrel system, had earlier called the attention of Budget Secretary Wendell Avisado for setting aside P469 billion for various construction projects that had already been implemented this year.
Lacson said a review of the 2021 NEP, or the Palace’s budget plan, showed that the DPWH’s realigned budget would reach at least P532 billion, including funding for 5,913 construction projects amounting to P135 billion.
He said more than P396 billion in lump-sum appropriations were allotted separately to the DPWH central office.
“(These) may need further explanation or clarification,” the senator said.
“It is basic that once an infrastructure project has started its implementation, it is already obligated. Hence, there can be no partial cash allocation, unless that project is discontinued, cancelled or terminated,” he said.
He said only the unspent portion of the budget for a certain project can be declared as savings and realigned for another project.
Only items covered by “multi-year contractual authority” that had been identified in the current budget may “reappear in the succeeding budget year,” according to Lacson.
He said the DPWH cannot use the COVID-19 pandemic as an excuse to place lump-sum allocations for existing projects, noting that the two economic stimulus measures that Congress had recently passed were both consistent with the 1987 Constitution.
On the budget of the NTF-ELCAC, he said the items should contain details on how the projects would be implemented.
Told that Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon had expressed concern that “soft projects” of the NTF-ELCAC may end up being used for partisan politics in the run-up to the 2020 elections, Lacson said: “The development program related to the anti-insurgency campaign necessitates livelihood programs.”
But Drilon maintained that allowing the anti-insurgency task force to finance “soft projects,” such as trainings and livelihood programs, would only expose taxpayer money to corruption.
“Given the corruption issues that the Senate has unearthed, we should rid the budget of every opportunity for corruption,” Drilon said in a statement.
He noted that funds for similar projects in the past, like the distribution of free fertilizers for farmers and those funded by lawmakers’ pork barrel, only ended up in the pockets of corrupt public officials and their cohorts.
The opposition senator said he would push for the abolition of the questionable budget items.
“If we cannot because we are in the minority, we will make sure that there is transparency and it does not have soft programs,” Drilon said.
“Provided these programs are clearly identified complete with specifics and (are) auditable, maybe it is worth supporting. After all, government needs to gain the trust and confidence of rebel returnees when they return to the mainstream of society,” he said.
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