MANILA, Philippines — Senators Sonny Angara and Nancy Binay on Thursday grilled the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) on why programs under the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-Elcac), specifically for 2021, remain unidentified.
The question was raised during the Senate Finance Committee on the Department of Budget and Management’s proposed 2023 budget, after Binay asked the DBM for updates on the budget allocation for NTF-Elcac for 2020 and 2021.
DBM Undersecretary for Budget Preparation and Execution Tina Rose Marie Canda said that for 2020, P1.8 billion have already been released for NTF-Elcac, covering “various agencies,” while in 2021, Canda said that the DBM already has P19.24 billion for total release, including the P16.4 billion for the Special Purpose Funds (SPF).
The NTF-Elcac is requesting another P10 billion as SPF for 2023.
But Binay pointed out that based on the documents submitted by DBM to the committee, only P2.9 billion of the P16.4 billion SRA is currently being used for ongoing projects, while only P3.2 has been used for completed ones.
“So parang may 50 percent of the 16 billion, parang in limbo pa ‘yung project (so it seems like 50 percent of the 16 billion, the project is still in limbo)?” noted Binay.
Angara then asked if the DBM had a report on the P3.2 billion completed projects.
“Syempre gusto natin malaman kung totoo nga ‘yan kasi maraming nagdududa, there’s no report, you’re the budgetary expert how do you judge that?” he said.
(Of course, we want to know if that is true because many doubt it, there’s no report, and you’re the budgetary expert. How do you judge that?)
Binay seconded this: “How would you justify the additional 10 billion for next year when you don’t even know what’s going on with this budget?”
Canda then explained that the justification for the additional fund is based on the NTF-Elcac’s cleared barangays, “so we allocated it based on the representation of NTF-Elcac that the amount would be required, initially P20 million, but it was cut to P4 million. ”
Binay then asked the DBM to submit the lists of barangay beneficiaries for the P10 billion SPF for 2023, noting that in previous years, documents submitted by DBM to the committee included the barangay beneficiaries.
Canda then responded that they did include the list of beneficiaries but not projects.
Angara then asked when these projects were identified, with Canda responding with: “Unfortunately, the projects are identified only implementation.”
“‘Yan ang mahirap kasi isn’t that a pork barrel, that’s frowned upon based on the Supreme Court?” said Angara
(Not an easy task because pork barrel spending is unconstitutional, according to the Supreme Court.)
He noted that even Senate Minority Leader Koko Pimentel agrees that it is a pork barrel based on the definition of the Supreme Court.
“Because, you know, when you pass the GAA (General Appropriation Act), there must be an identification of projects as much as possible,” he said.
“Is there no way to improve the program, in that sense, from a budgetary standpoint, parang (like) the standards you apply to different funds’ di ba dapat magpply din sa kanila (shouldn’t it also apply to them)?” he added.
Canda then clarified that the DBM has given the council some “leeway” in identifying the projects based on the “purpose of the monies.”
“However, we leave it to the discretion and wisdom of the committee if certain adjustments to the amount or allocation should be done,” she said.
Angara then declared that they, too, wish to support the initiative but urged the DBM to adopt the same standards that they demand of other government organizations.
He also told the DBM to submit a report on the unidentified programs.
“Let’s apply the same standards across the board and if you could give as detailed a report as soon as possible in the implementation of the programs, we would appreciate it,” the senator said.