Ping blasts fund ‘juggling,’ ‘insertions’ in public works budget
MANILA, Philippines — Sen. Panfilo “Ping” Lacson on Thursday slammed the “juggling” and “insertions” in the 2021 budget of the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH), which received an additional P28.3 billion even after he had flagged irregular projects that were again sought to be funded next year.
Lacson hinted that the increase in the DPWH budget, supposedly introduced by members of the House of Representatives in the 2021 general appropriations bill (GAB), would be used as campaign funds for the 2022 elections.
“The net increase of P28.3 billion on top of juggled funds within the DPWH 2021 budget could only indicate massive realignments and insertions introduced by the legislators. It begs the question: Is this an election campaign budget?” Lacson asked.
Speaker Lord Allan Velasco and House appropriations committee chair Eric Yap did not respond to the Inquirer’s request for comment on Thursday.
President’s veto power
But Lacson did not call on President Rodrigo Duterte to veto the questionable items in the national budget for 2021.
“I hope and trust that (President Duterte) will again see through the interests of politics and self-aggrandizement of some legislators in their massive realignments and insertions by making sure that he exercises his veto power in the pursuit of our country’s welfare, especially during these difficult times brought about by the pandemic,” he said.
Lacson voted on Wednesday against the ratification of the bicameral conference committee report on the P4.5- trillion GAB, including the P694.8-billion DPWH budget, which increased the P666.5 billion that was originally proposed by the executive department in the National Expenditure Program.
Lacson questioned why the DPWH was getting a budget increase despite its “pitiful” record of underspending, based on its performance data from 2011 to 2020.
“As it is… we can immediately see that P82 billion cannot be used. And here we are further increasing the budget of DPWH by P28 billion,” he said.
During the Senate deliberations on the budget, Lacson sought the deletion of P60 billion in infrastructure projects lodged under the DPWH, as well as the “disproportionate” allocation among congressional districts.
Earlier, Lacson disclosed that under the proposed budget approved by the House, a district in Davao City, Duterte’s hometown, would get P15 billion for infrastructure projects, while P10 billion was allotted for Benguet, the caretaker district of Yap, the House appropriations panel chief.
Yap was one of the two members of the “small bicameral committee” that ironed out discrepancies between the Senate and House versions of the budget bill.
Increased instead of deleted
Lacson reiterated his criticism of the double appropriations and “overlapping” projects in the DPWH budget, the “uniform” appropriation of P1 million in 793 funding items for multipurpose buildings, and allegedly padded funding for right-of-way (ROW) payments.
Instead of being deleted, the funding for the multipurpose buildings was increased, Lacson said.
“I will not mention anymore the locations because I don’t want to put some people on the spot. Suffice it to say that I know where additional funds for [multipurpose buildings] went to, or are intended to be appropriated. So let’s leave it at that,” Lacson said.
He said P22.14 billion in ROW payments was set aside in the 2021 budget bill, while P4.05 billion was “embedded” in funding items for various projects.
Lacson said he was dismayed that the DPWH was getting increased funding despite its poor spending record.
“It’s a very vicious cycle. That’s why I’m asking these questions for future reference, [because] we should learn our lessons from that data,” he said during his interpellation on the bicameral report on Wednesday evening.
Broadband project endangered
Lacson also lamented that the Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT) budget was slashed from P5.9 billion to just P3 billion, endangering the implementation of the national broadband project.
“Out of the requirement of P18 billion, you are effectively giving it just that amount. What can we do with that amount? Nothing,” he said.
In response, Sen. Juan Edgardo Angara, who was defending the bicameral report, said the House slashed the DICT budget due to its “low utilization rate” in previous years.
Lacson quickly rejected Angara’s explanation, as it was the very reason he was questioning the budget increase for the DPWH.
“What’s good for the goose should also be good for the gander. The [conference committee] increased the DPWH budget by P28 billion, amid my pointing out its low utilization rate. Now they are using the same argument for [the] DICT?” he said.
Lacson reiterated that the national broadband program could save the government P34 billion in the next five years.
Presidential spokesperson Harry Roque said Duterte would comb through the General Appropriations Act (GAA) and veto any objectionable item.
Roque told a news briefing on Thursday that Duterte had not yet received a copy of the GAA and that the President knew that he had to sign it before the year-end.
“We will continue to wait and we make sure that the Palace will be quick in examining the budget to determine if there are specific line items that the President would veto. All these will happen within this month because we need to have a budget [by] Jan. 1,” Roque said.
“We will take steps necessary so that it becomes a law, but the President will not sacrifice or surrender the power to study the budget and ensure that there is no item of appropriation that needs to be vetoed. So the President will exercise his power of review and his power of line veto,” he added. —WITH A REPORT FROM JEROME ANING
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