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Senators see pork in DPWH budget

Sen. Panfilo Lacson. INQUIRER FILE PHOTO

Sen. Panfilo Lacson. INQUIRER FILE PHOTO

Senate deliberations on the P454.2-billion budget of the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) on Monday ran for six hours as Sen. Panfilo Lacson questioned suspected pork in the agency’s proposed spending for next year.

Lacson questioned certain lump-sum appropriations in the DPWH budget that were not itemized, some of them lodged at the agency’s central office.

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“I hope that the DPWH cooperate with us. . . there are funds that have been juggled and the DPWH’s autonomy and capability to implement programs are affected. I just want to [know] why there is juggling of funds in the House version,” Lacson said.

The lump sums included the transfer of P8.317 billion from the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao to the DPWH central office, as well as an increase of P216 million for school buildings under the House version.

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Clearly PDAF

Lacson said these were “clearly priority development assistance funds (PDAF) and should be restored to their appropriations under the National Expenditure Program.”

Lacson also questioned P1.525 billion in lump sum for legislative districts that Sen. Loren Legarda said were part of the Mindanao logistics network and “not congressional insertion.”

Legarda, chair of the finance committee, said the department would change these items from legislative districts to district engineering office.

Lacson also asked why there was P500 million and another P150 million lodged at the DPWH central office for feasibility studies for future projects of regions when there was already an allocation of P5.9 billion for feasibility studies, project development and preliminary and detailed engineering.

Senate President Pro Tempore Franklin Drilon said these funds seemed to be similar to the PDAF, which the Supreme Court had struck down as unconstitutional.

Legarda said the funds were standby funds the public works secretary was authorized to use for future projects, prompting Drilon and Lacson to ask why the DPWH chief had such an authority when Congress did not.

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Lacson asked that DPWH break down the allocation and explain its use so this would not be seen as a lump sum.

Senate President Aquilino Pimentel III expressed alarm over reports that regional and district offices of the DPWH were already bidding out projects for next year when Congress had not yet passed the proposed P3.3-trillion national budget for 2017.

Even if this had been a practice, Pimentel stressed there should be a legal basis for it and, if there is none, then it should be stopped.

“We are just reinforcing our concept of rule of law. How can you possibly bid a project right now, when there is still no law appropriating funds for the project?” he added.

Legarda had informed Pimentel that the practice was based on a 2009 circular of the Government Procurement Policy Board.

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TAGS: Department of Public Works and Highways, Philippine news updates, Pork barrel, Sen. Panfilo Lacson, Senate
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