Lagman: House followed Palace on infra allotments
It was Malacañang, not the House of Representatives, that was responsible for any increase in the congressional district public works allocations in the proposed budget for the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH), according to Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman.
Lagman, a member of the House “small committee” that proposed P20 billion in “institutional amendments” to the national budget for 2021, on Friday countered allegations that insertions were made by the House, which bloated the DPWH budget for the districts.
“The congressional district infrastructure appropriations are lodged in the President’s NEP (National Expenditure Program), which were copied verbatim in the 2021 General Appropriations Bill (GAB) which was filed for first reading,” Lagman said in a statement to the Inquirer.
“Consequently,” he said, “any variances in infrastructure allocations among congressional districts are found in the NEP which were copied under the 2021 GAB.”
Shortly after passing the 2021 budget bill on third and final reading, the House created a 14-member committee which reviewed the proposed institutional amendments that were discussed in plenary.
These amendments were changes to an agency’s budget which the agency itself proposed. They are essentially a realignment of other items within that agency’s allotments or of its unprogrammed funds.
Lagman said the P4.5-trillion budget bill, as approved on second and third reading by the House “did not include any individual amendments augmenting or reducing the infra allocations in the NEP.”
“What the House small committee proposed were institutional amendments amounting to P20B which are now part of the GAB forwarded to the Senate. To reiterate, no individual amendments were effected and accepted by the small committee,” he said.
The lawmaker was reacting to Sen. Panfilo Lacson’s disclosure on Thursday that the total amount of insertions from the House in the DPWH’s budget and the double funding of some infrastructure projects would be enough to help typhoon-battered areas.
Like village councilors
The DPWH budget amounts to P667.3 billion in both the NEP and the GAB, according to documents from the Department of Budget and Management and the House appropriations committee report.
The Inquirer sought comments on Lagman’s statement from Budget Secretary Wendel Avisado and presidential spokesperson Harry Roque but they did not immediately respond.
While scrutinizing the DPWH’s proposed budget for 2021, Lacson said the amounts inserted would make senators look like “village councilors” compared to their House counterparts as 220 of 242 congressional districts will each receive more than P1 billion for public works projects.
He said the other districts were to get less, but not lower than P620 million. One district was to receive P15.351 billion, Lacson said. He did not identify any of the districts or House members.
Lacson said the DPWH attached 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.
He also called out the “double appropriations” and the funding for “overlapping” projects in some road and slope protection projects.
Lacson on Friday insisted that the House made “interventions” on the NEP.
Gains and cuts
“What I presented was both the NEP and the GAB which explains the gains and cuts in the appropriations of a number of districts. Meaning, there were interventions made on the NEP,” Lacson told the Inquirer in a Viber message.
Asked if he thought the senator was wrong in blaming House members for the increase in district public works allocations, Lagman replied: “It’s clear from my statement that there were no House individual insertions on infra allocations modifying the NEP. Should I say more?”
House Majority Leader Martin Romualdez, another member of the small committee, declined to comment on Lacson’s findings. Speaker Lord Allan Velasco referred the Inquirer to House appropriations committee Rep. Eric Go Yap, who has not responded to requests for comment.
There also was no reaction from House Minority Leader Joseph Stephen Paduano.
When it agreed on the P20-billion institutional amendments to the budget bill passed on third reading, the small committee did not tackle the alleged unfair infrastructure allocations which favored districts of lawmakers allied with ex-Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano.
These allocations will likely be taken up in the bicameral conference committee that will finalize the 2021 national budget.
The so-called institutional amendments amounting to P20 billion were for: P5.5 billion to purchase COVID-19 vaccines, P4 billion to aid displaced workers, P2 billion for pandemic assistance to afflicted families, P2 billion to improve and equip government hospitals, P2 billion to purchase C-130 military aircraft, P2 billion to purchase police vehicles, P1.7 billion for internet connectivity in schools, P400 million for renewable energy development, P300 million for mental health programs and P100 million to improve and modernize the Energy Regulatory Commission. —WITH REPORTS FROM DJ YAP AND INQUIRER RESEARCH
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