Solons may be sued if they allow ‘double appropriation’ for DPWH projects
MANILA, Philippines — Members of the House of Representatives may face criminal charges if they approve the 2021 budget despite the inclusion of public works projects that were already funded in the 2020 General Appropriations Act (GAA), lawmakers warned on Tuesday.
Leyte Rep. Vicente Veloso, chair of the House justice committee, issued this warning after he questioned why a number of projects, which were marked “for later release (FLR)” by the Department of Budget and Management and were already funded last year, were again being sought to be funded in the proposed 2021 GAA.
“I do not want that we become principals by indispensable cooperation if we pass this budget into law. The 2020 budget is already a law, which has its own set of projects, and no one can take that for granted,” he said.
Officials of the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) again faced lawmakers for their briefing for their 2021 budget amounting to P667.3 billion.
But some legislators questioned the inclusion of about P271 billion worth of projects, which were funded under the 2020 GAA and were marked FLR, were again listed in the 2021 National Expenditure Program.
Veloso dismissed the stand of the DPWH officials stand citing the Bayanihan to Heal As One Act as the legal basis allowing them to realign the funding of the FLR projects to the 2021 NEP.
“It is only Congress that has the power to realign. The Bayanihan Law is just being used as a scapegoat. I’m sure the President knows he has tremendous powers, but he doesn’t want to commit an unconstitutional act,” he said.
The Leyte lawmaker expressed concern that Congress might be violating the Constitution if it would allow the “double appropriation” of projects, most of which were reportedly endorsed by House members for their constituencies.
“I know the contents of the Bayanihan Act. There is nothing in the law where DPWH can realign [the projects] and put these in the 2021 budget,” Veloso added.
In response, Public Works Secretary Mark Villar explained the proposed 2021 budget of the DPWH included only a portion of the FLR projects that were included in the 2020 GAA but were not actually funded because the money was used for the government’s coronavirus response.
The FLR projects in the 2020 GAA have become controversial after these were marked, supposedly by the DBM, as part of suspected “last-minute insertions” in the budget of agencies, in so-called parked pork barrel funds.
Undersecretary Cabral said that “half” of the P271 billion FLR projects were funded in the 2020 GAA, while the other half was being sought to be funded in 2021.
House Minority Leader Carlos Isagani Zarate seconded Veloso’s apprehensions, which, he said, was a case of “double appropriation,” especially since P397 billion lodged with the DPWH central office appeared to be lump sum appropriations.
Cagayan De Oro Rep. Rufus Rodriguez also backed Veloso on the question of double appropriation, citing the inclusion of the FLR in the 2021 budget, which he called a “scheme’ devised by the DBM.
“The 2020 GAA does not speak of FLRs. What is in the law are the projects that Congress sought to be funded and should be released in 2020, not in 2021,” he said.
He cited a provision in the Constitution that “no law shall be passed authorizing the transfer of appropriation.”
“It is only the Congress that can transfer,” he said.
Villar said he would clarify the issue with Budget Secretary Wendel Avisado.
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