Drilon raises doubt on ‘speed’ of PITC spending of BFP funds
MANILA, Philippines—Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon on Monday (Feb. 15) cast doubt on the “speed” of spending by the Philippine International Trading Corp. (PITC) of some P3.1 billion allotted to the Bureau of Fire Protection (BFP) after the funds had been parked for at least four years.
In his interpellation of Sen. Ronald Dela Rosa on the proposed BFP upgrade program, Drilon said he found it unusual for the PITC to quickly disburse its funds only after the Senate started investigating reports on the spending efficiency of the agency in charge of procurement of equipment for government offices.
“The only thing here is that this amount was with the PITC way back in 2017, or almost four years, but when we started bringing this out publicly, suddenly the contracts are awarded,” said the opposition senator.
Dela Rosa, chair of the Senate committee on public order and dangerous drugs, was defending Senate Bill No. 1832, or the proposed Bureau of Fire Protection Modernization Act of 2020, which seeks to provide the bureau with modern fire fighting tools and life-saving equipment, more employees and training.
The measure, authored by Sen. Juan Miguel Zubiri, sought to raise the standard of the BFP to make it at par with those in other countries.
According to Dela Rosa, the bill seeks an additional funding of P26.8 billion for the next three years to complete the BFP upgrade.
Drilon, however, expressed suspicion how the PITC had spent at least P2 billion on firetrucks, when the funds languished in the agency since 2017.
He recalled that when the controversy on unspent BFP funds in the PITC reached the Senate floor on Feb. 8, Dela Rosa said the procurement process for new BFP equipment was still in the pre-bidding stage.
But on Monday, Dela Rosa sought to clarify that the PITC has reported the award of some P2 billion in purchase contracts, a revelation that Drilon said “raises eyebrows.”
“The speed by which the P2 billion was spent is something that raises questions in my mind and we intend to look at this when we resume hearing on the PITC,” he said.
Drilon has pushed for an investigation of how the PITC has become a repository of agencies’ unspent funds which had not been returned to the Treasury despite the expiry of deadlines for projects allotted with the funds.
He said the BFP should ask the PITC to remit to the Treasury at least P321 million in bureau funds under Republic Act No. 9150, which had extended the effectivity of Bayanihan to Recover As One Act.
The law mandated that funds transferred to government-owned and controlled corporations but remained unused by Dec. 31, 2020 must revert to unappropriated surplus, Drilon said.
“The BFP should already demand for the return of the P321 million because there is no more sense in negotiating,” Drilon said. “They should exert every effort otherwise they will be held liable for graft,” he said.
The minority leader also raised doubt on whether the BFP still was capable of handling funds to be allotted to it for the second phase of its upgrade program as it had been called out previously for inefficiency in fund use.
Drilon said that out of the P60 billion that the BFP needed for upgrade from 2011 to 2017, only P13.1 billion, or 20 percent, had been actually allotted.
During this period, the BFP had failed to implement projects worth P1.9 billion, and funds had to be reverted to the Bureau of Treasury, Drilon said.
He said the BFP should first improve its fund use record before it is given more money.
“It is unfortunate that they already lack allocation, yet they are slow in fund utilization,” said Drilon.
“And with this proposed law, we want to repeat this practice? They do not deserve the funds for the simple reason that they cannot spend it,” he said.
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