‘Pandemic can’t stop the greed’
MANILA, Philippines — Not even a pandemic could moderate the greed of some, Sen. Panfilo Lacson said on Friday as he scored his fellow lawmakers for toying around with the P4.5-trillion national budget for 2021 to satisfy their personal interests.
“This only shows that, for some, a pandemic—and the crippling effects it has on all sectors of society—should not get in the way of personal interests,” Lacson said, days after a congressional bicameral committee reported a unified version of the government’s biggest-ever spending program.
Lacson, the Senate’s acknowledged pork hunter, called out both senators and congressmen for “manipulating” the budget of the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) and cutting appropriations for other departments that had already been approved by both chambers.
Lowest budget utilization
“Congress bicameral committee report: P83.87 billion of DPWH infra projects migrated to new areas while appropriations worth P55.52 billion disappeared,” he said on Twitter.
“As if it wasn’t enough to satisfy their greed, they cut the budgets of other departments by P28.35 billion. Story of our lives,” Lacson added.
“This explains why, as I have pointed out in my interpellation [on] Wednesday, year in and year out, [the] DPWH suffers one of the lowest budget utilization rates with an annual average of P82 billion from 2011 to 2018 and even lower average disbursement rate since 2017,” he said.
The senator said the “capricious and arbitrary” realignments by the bicameral conference committee, led by Sen. Juan Edgardo Angara and ACT-CIS Rep. Eric Go Yap, did not even bother to reflect the planning by public works officials nor legislators’ deliberations.
Lacson said the conference committee created new items in the DPWH budget while other already-approved appropriations were increased to as much as P83.87 billion in total.
Aside from the increases, there were also decreases in some existing budget items while other items were completely removed, he said.
The reductions amounted to P55.521 billion and, to make it appear that the budget was intact, the conference committee cut funding for the programs, activities, and projects of other departments or agencies to make up for the difference.
One of these agencies was the Department of Information and Communications Technology, which would get only less than P1 billion for the national broadband program that needs at least P18 billion.
Some congressmen agreed that the unified bill produced by the conference committee was “misprioritized” and meant only to boost political repression, electioneering, and pork funds.
Leftist congressmen said in a joint statement that the spending measure “scrimps on health, education, and social services even at the height of [the] pandemic and economic crisis.”
“This bicameral [committee]-approved version of [President] Duterte’s 2021 budget ensures that more public funds will be funneled to corruption-prone projects and to programs that desperately seek to stifle the opposition in view of the upcoming 2022 elections,” they said.
Since politicians will not be able to use much of the still-incipient 2022 budget before the elections, the 2021 budget is generally considered an “election year budget.”
The lawmakers said that even the P72.5-billion fund allotted to procure COVID-19 vaccines was “in the form of lump sum, unprogrammed funds, the spending of which will be subject to the President’s discretion.”
“Worse, the funds will be sourced [through] loans from vaccine-manufacturing countries as admitted by presidential spokesperson Harry Roque Jr. This P72.5 billion is ‘vaccine pork’ that is highly vulnerable to patronage, corruption and electioneering especially as it will be administered in the run-up to the 2022 elections,” the Makabayan bloc said.
Out of the P72.5-billion vaccine fund, only P2.5 billion can be funded immediately while the balance was placed under unprogrammed appropriations, which can be financed depending on excess tax collections or new revenue sources.
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