Public works, anti-insurgency funds to be given closer look
MANILA, Philippines — Officials of the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) should brace themselves for the tough job of justifying before the Senate the reallocation in their 2021 budget of about P532 billion for infrastructure projects that had already been funded this year, Sen. Panfilo Lacson said on Monday.
Lacson said he would also ask the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC) to provide details of P19 billion worth of projects that it was planning to distribute to barangay councils as part of the government’s anti-insurgency program.
He said he would not allow lump-sum items in the proposed P4.5-trillion national budget for next year, which the Senate started to tackle on Sept. 9.
‘A lot of explaining to do’
“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 added.
Lacson reiterated that the Supreme Court had already struck down as unconstitutional lump-sum allocations in the government’s National Expenditure Program (NEP) as these lacked specific details on their implementation.
Earlier, Lacson called the attention of Budget Secretary Wendel 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 showed that the DPWH’s reappropriated budget would reach at least P532 billion, including P135 billion covering 5,913 construction projects.
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,” Lacson 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, canceled or terminated,” he explained.
Pandemic not an excuse
He said only the unspent portion of the budget for a certain project could be declared as savings and realigned for another project.
Items covered by “multiyear contractual authority” that had been identified in the current approved budget “cannot reappear in the succeeding budget year,” Lacson said.
He said the DPWH could not use the COVID-19 pandemic as an excuse to have lump-sum allocations for existing projects, noting that the two economic stimulus measures that Congress recently passed were consistent with the 1987 Constitution.
As to 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 could 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.”
“Provided these programs are clearly identified complete with specifics and [are] auditable, maybe it is worth supporting. After all, [the] government needs to gain the trust and confidence of rebel returnees when they return to the mainstream of society,” he said.
Drilon, however, maintained that allowing the anti-insurgency task force to finance “soft projects,” such as training and livelihood, 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,” he said in a statement.
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