Lacson blames House for fat DPWH budget
Sen. Panfilo Lacson said the total amount of fund insertions in the bulging budget for the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) made by the House of Representatives and the double funding of some public works projects would be enough to help areas most devastated by the recent typhoons.
“All I can say is pity yourselves,” Lacson told his colleagues during his interpellation on Wednesday of the proposed P666.4-billion DPWH budget for 2021.
“Those of us who may have individual insertions would look like ‘barangay kagawads’ (village councilors) compared to our House counterparts—from a high of P15.351 billion to a low of P620 million,” he said.
About 220 of the 242 congressional districts are set to receive more than P1 billion each, while the rest are set to get less although the lowest amount is P620 million, Lacson said. He did not identify the specific districts or House members.
Speaker Lord Allan Velasco and House appropriations chair Rep. Eric Go Yap did not immediately respond to the Inquirer’s request for comment.
“I think this was two administrations ago—whenever we hear of P500 million for one district, we were already shocked. Now we’re looking at billions, from one to 220 districts, they are getting more than P1 billion,” Lacson recalled.
Uniform P1-M allocation
The senator also pushed for the realignment of P739 million intended for the construction of 739 multipurpose buildings, with a “uniform allocation” of P1 million each. The amount is part of the P474 billion allocated for all engineering districts.
Lacson earlier flagged projects in various parts of the country that had received as much as P15 million but remained unfinished, mere skeletons of the structures that were supposed to rise.
He cited one engineering district that ended up with a P15.35-billion allotment after it got P5.7 billion on top of its P9.7-billion allocation under the National Expenditure Program.
The senator did not identify the district, but in his budget interpellation last week, Lacson cited an identical amount that was to go to “an urban district in Davao.” It was the highest appropriation for a single district in the 2021 general appropriations bill (GAB), or the proposed national budget, he said.
He said he was not blaming the DPWH for its expanding budget “because practically it was the congressmen who prepared this list” of projects to be funded.
Lacson said the DPWH was prompted to attach an “addendum” when it was pressed for details on the P396 billion in lump-sum appropriations that lawmakers found in its 2021 budget. “But the addendum even exceeded P396 billion; it shot up to P474 billion,” he said.
No evidence to link Villar
He, however, said he and his staff did not find any evidence linking Public Works Secretary Mark Villar to the irregularities they found in the proposed budget.
“In actual fact, Mr. President, as I speak, we haven’t heard even from the rumor mill that Secretary Villar has dipped his fingers into any of the shenanigans that some sectors say are almost of public knowledge in the agency,” he said, addressing Senate President Vicente Sotto III.
Lacson called out what he described as double appropriations and the funding for “overlapping” projects.
Double appropriation refers to projects that appear identical due to the absence, deliberate or not, of specific details. Overlapping projects are those with similar names that appear to be separate but are actually parts of the same projects that result from “sectioning.”
These alleged funding irregularities were found in some road and slope protection projects.
Lacson said the Davao City Coastal Bypass Road was an example of double appropriation as it was to receive funds from two separate budget items in the 2021 GAB, one amounting to P4.45 billion and the other P1.71 billion.
“There’s no [detail on] sectioning [of the road project]. The description of the items is the same. It appears that it’s only one project,” Lacson said.Double appropriation
Echoing the response from DPWH officials, Sen. Sonny Angara, Senate finance committee chair, said the seemingly double appropriations cited by Lacson purportedly fall under the items that were ticked by the Department of Budget and Management as “for later release,” or FLR, in the 2020 General Appropriations Act, which had to be budgeted again for 2021.
Lacson then asked that specific details of the road projects to be funded in 2021 be submitted, including the “sectioning” details.
He cited other double appropriation projects: the Major Mane to Kennon Road Bypass Road in Baguio City (P50 million plus P3 million); the Iguig Bypass Road in Cagayan province (P50 million plus P1.9 million); a convention center in Ozamiz City in Misamis Occidental province (P112.4 million plus P62 million); a flyover project in Batangas City (P85 million plus P81.33 million); and an “expensive” multipurpose building in Barangay Carmay East in Rosales town in Pangasinan (P127.5 million plus P50 million).
Lacson said the proposed funding for the Surigao del Sur Boundary-Davao Oriental Coastal Road was a case of overlapping.
“The interesting thing here is that P12.1 million is for 45 meters, but it would seem to be more expensive than the 80 m, which was funded P1 million. What is sought to be constructed by P1 million is longer than that of the P12 million,” he said.
Lacson was not convinced by Angara, who again pointed to the “FLR” scheme to explain the overlap.
“It’s difficult to be enlightened by the explanation offered,” he said.
Lacson blamed this irregularity in project costs to poor planning within the DPWH.
Other overlapping projects uncovered by Lacson’s staff include a road project in Bukidnon, which was to get P50 million plus another P30 million.
The senator also flagged the supposed embedding of costs of payment for right of way (ROW) with the funding for still-to-be constructed road projects.
For 2020, the DPWH supposedly allotted P11.46 billion for ROW payments, but also noted several projects wherein ROW costs were supposedly “embedded.”
He reminded public works officials that under Republic Act No. 10752, which facilitates the acquisition of ROW for government infrastructure, the government is required to settle all such issues before the start of construction as this had often delayed the completion of projects.
The Senate deliberations on the proposed budget of the DPWH, which began on Wednesday and ended in the wee hours on Thursday, will continue.
Lacson asked the DPWH to submit details of all projects with embedded ROW costs.
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