Palace sits on P100-billion unfinished projects as gov’t seeks P5-trillon budget
MANILA, Philippines — It’s already September, but Malacañang, which is asking Congress for a budget of more than P5 trillion for 2022, is still sitting on about P100 billion worth of projects earmarked by lawmakers in the 2021 budget, including funding for medical scholarships and infrastructure works, senators noted on Wednesday.
“These projects should already be nearing completion. But until now, most of the projects—which could generate a lot of jobs—have yet to begin while some are yet to be bid out,” Sen. Nancy Binay said at the budget hearing of the Senate finance panel.
Senate finance chair Juan Edgardo Angara pointed out that unless obligated by December, the funds would revert to the Bureau of Treasury under the government’s cash-based budgeting system.
“Are they planning to release this or is there no more plan to release the funds?” Binay asked the Office of the President (OP) contingent led by Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea.
Senior Deputy Executive Secretary Michael Ong said that budgetary items tagged as “for later release (FLR),” which were introduced by senators and House members, were not part of the executive branch’s original budget proposal, or the National Expenditure Program (NEP), and were not among President Duterte’s priorities.
“FLRs are limited to new budgetary items that are not in the NEP,” Ong said. “Many of these have not gone through the usual vetting process, so there’s a reason to place them in a category of their own, which warrants the imposition of special conditions for their release.”
Those conditions usually include the submission of documentary and other requirements.
“These are not part of the original plan, so they have to be vetted by agencies and the DBM (Department of Budget and Management) before they are released,” he added.
Binay retorted: “It’s been nine months and your vetting process is not yet done?”
Senate Majority Leader Juan Miguel Zubiri appealed to Medialdea to help speed up the approval of “institutional amendments” of the senators.
“It’s such a waste if the funds aren’t released. We need these for countryside development, medical scholarships and different programs,” he said.
Zubiri asked what was causing the bottleneck, saying he was told the OP had already approved many FLRs, but the DBM had yet to release the special allotment release orders for these. Medialdea vowed to streamline the process.
In an earlier Senate hearing, Budget Undersecretary Tina Rose Marie Canda said P140 billion in public works funds tagged as FLR had been submitted to the OP for review.
She added that, as of June, the DBM has released only P33 billion of the FLR funds approved by the OP.
Canda admitted that the FLR system “made [disbursement] slower in terms of new projects.”
“But in terms of ongoing projects, we have released comprehensively at almost 85 percent of infrastructure projects to agencies,” she said.
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