DPWH budget easily gets House nod
The Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) breezed through the House budget hearing on Thursday.
DPWH officials led by Secretary Mark Villar did not get an intense grilling from lawmakers and the agency’s proposed P686.1-billion budget for 2022 was approved in less than two hours.
At the start of the hearing, Surigao del Norte Rep. Francisco Matugas, who presided over the deliberations, told lawmakers to “stick to policy and institutional matters” during their interpellations and refrain from asking parochial concerns as these could be discussed privately with Villar.
Except for Bayan Muna Rep. Ferdinand Gaite and ACT Teachers Rep. France Castro, who questioned Villar on the alleged misappropriation of P10.3 billion worth of savings to finance projects deemed not urgent, other lawmakers heaped praises on Villar and even expressed support for his 2022 senatorial run.
“According to our former congressman Neri Colmenares of Bayan Muna, based on the listings of the projects, apparently there were sports facilities, swimming pools, cruise port, convention center, a museum and I do not know what this is, a bat cave, that were the products of the P10.3 billion. Can the good secretary confirm or deny this?” Gaite asked.
Villar did neither and instead told the lawmaker that he would send a list of the projects covered by the funds.
“The DPWH has a very wide scope of projects that we implement ranging from tourism, to assisting our soldiers with their infrastructure needs, to the Department of Trade and Industry,” Villar said.
“Of course we try to have a wide scope of projects that cater to all needs. Some of them are tourism, some of them for flood control, some of them for major road networks, some of them are for trade and industry corridors, some are for airports, some of them are for culture. These things are all important aspects of our lives,” he added.
Colmenares earlier 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; a P40-million three-story billeting area and cafeteria in Fort Sto. Domingo, Laguna, and P30 million to develop a bat cave in Matanao, Davao del Sur.
“In this time of pandemic, if these are true then we do not see any urgency for such projects,” Gaite said during the budget hearing.
Villar said the DPWH did not have a contingent fund and that the money in question was from the Office of the President.
Gaite then questioned why the P10.3 billion was used for infrastructure projects, to which Villar replied: “I stand by our infrastructure programs and I feel that in the end, what is important is that we are able to generate jobs.”
But Gaite pointed out that “these mysterious funds, including the mysterious entries in the Saro (special allotment release order), including the projects, give rise to the suspicion that again this is plain and simple pork barrel funds.”
“We have to be informed of what really is this contingent fund, where did it come from, how it was used, for the sake of our Filipinos who are practically deprived of certain programs of government. The P10 billion could have been used for more urgent matters than what it was used in the 2020 budget,” he said.
On Wednesday, the six opposition lawmakers from Bayan Muna, Gabriela, ACT Teachers, and Kabataan filed House Resolution No. 2223, calling for a congressional probe into the use of the contingency fund.
There were other issues raised against the DPWH, including the findings of the Commission on Audit (COA) in its 2020 report released last Aug. 8 claiming that the agency failed to apply sanctions on contractors of 24 delayed infrastructure projects totaling P719.69 million and to collect P681.95 million in advance payments made to contractors of 414 infrastructure projects that were either completed, rescinded or terminated.
During the hearing, which lasted for about one hour and 40 minutes, other lawmakers praised Villar and backed his senatorial bid next year.
Catanduanes Rep. Hector Sanchez thanked Villar for the completion of a circumferential road in his province that had been a “dream” of his constituents.
“That’s why we are very much—102 percent—supporting your candidacy this coming elections. I hope you will be the No. 1 this coming elections,” Sanchez told Villar, who was included as a guest candidate of the ruling Partido Demokratiko Pilipino-Lakas ng Bayan (PDP-Laban).
Deputy Speaker Rufus Rodriguez, Pangasinan Rep. Tyrone Agabas and Iloilo City Rep. Julienne Baronda also used their time to praise Villar and support his senatorial bid next year.
Rodriguez said Villar has “helped our country so much” as a DPWH secretary and would further continue his “service to the nation by going to the Senate to help more of our constituents in the country.”
In the past, budget deliberations on the DPWH were heated as lawmakers questioned the unfair distribution of funds to congressional districts allied with the House leadership.
Five years after since President Rodrigo Duterte assumed position, DPWH, under Secretary Villar, has completed a total of 29,264 kilometers of roads, 5,950 bridges, 11,340 flood control projects, 222 evacuation centers, 89 Tatag ng Imprastraktura Para sa Kapayapaan at Seguridad (TIKAS) projects and 150,149 classrooms, and 653 COVID-19 facilities has also been built under the “Build, Build, Build” program.
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