Probe diversion of P10.3-B ‘savings,’ Congress, COA urged | Inquirer News
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Probe diversion of P10.3-B ‘savings,’ Congress, COA urged

Neri Colmenares

Neri Colmenares (Henzberg Austria/Senate PRIB)

MANILA, Philippines — Congress and the Commission on Audit (COA) should investigate the alleged misappropriation of P10.3 billion worth of savings in contingent funds to finance projects by the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) that had nothing to do with the government’s COVID-19 pandemic response.

Bayan Muna chair Neri Colmenares said in a statement on Monday that they should look into this “deplorable misuse of public funds” considering the more than P200 billion in savings in 2020 unearthed in the budget documents submitted to Congress.

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“It appears that such savings are being channeled to pork barrel projects in connection with the 2022 elections,” he added.

He said that among the projects funded by the DPWH were a P70-million sports facility complete with swimming pool in Casiguran, Sorsogon; a P150-million port for cruise ships in Legazpi City, Albay; an P85.8-million three-story building in Malacañang Park for the Presidential Security Group; a P40-million three-story billeting area and cafeteria in Fort Sto. Domingo, Laguna; P300 million for the repair and rehabilitation of the Landbank Building 1 in Makati; and P30 million to develop a bat cave in Matanao, Davao del Sur.

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“People are dying in hospital parking lots and then you spent P10.3 billion for a cruise port, swimming pool and bat cave? Is this not treason?” the former lawmaker asked on Monday.

“This is totally unacceptable,” he said, citing that the government had borrowed trillions of pesos to fight the economic and health crises brought about by the pandemic.

Speaker Lord Allan Velasco did not respond to the Inquirer’s request for comment on Colmenares’ call for a congressional probe.

Legal basis

However, Malacañang said on Monday that infrastructure projects funded by savings from discontinued programs could still be related to the government’s pandemic response.

Presidential spokesperson Harry Roque made the statement when sought for comment on the report that P10.3 billion in savings in 2020 went to infrastructure projects instead of COVID-19 programs.

Roque said he did not personally know of any funds used for infrastructure projects that were not related to the health crisis.

“What I know is we have a lot of infrastructure [projects] like makeshift hospitals that were put up to increase our bed capacity for COVID patients. These could be infrastructure projects but these are related to COVID,” he said in a press briefing.

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He also said that under the law, savings could be used for other programs provided that these were within the same department.

He said this was contained in the Supreme Court’s decision on the Aquino administration’s Disbursement Acceleration Program, which was struck down for violating constitutional provisions that bar cross-border transfer of savings to agencies outside the executive branch and to projects outside the approved national budget.

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TAGS: diversion of contingent funds, DPWH projects, Neri Colmenares
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