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'Beyond recognition': Lacson questions 'pattern' in DPWH's P666-billion budget

Senator Panfilo Lacson on Wednesday, October 14, questioned what appears to be a "pattern" among the projects in the proposed P666.47-billion budget of the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) for 2021.

In the DPWH budget hearing at the Senate, Lacson pointed out that the list of projects submitted by the department as an "errata" to the ones listed in the National Expenditure Program (NEP) "was beyond recognition." The NEP was submitted first by the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) to Congress.

Lacson did not mince words, going straight to the point to ask the DPWH: "Did the late submission involve intervention from some legislators or was it entirely their (DPWH) own doing?"

Public Works Secretary Mark Villar explained that the department could not beat the deadline for the printing of the NEP, and asked the DBM if they could just submit the list of projects at a later time.

"I spoke with DBM requesting [that] we would not be able to physically finish it in a single day. For compromise, we would submit a detailed annex that would basically give the details of the budget," said Villar.

"Basically, the ceiling was given at a date very close to the actual printing which rendered us unable to give details in such a short time," he added.

Villar said the DPWH was able to submit the list of projects to the DBM on August 14. The budget department sent the correct DPWH list to Congress on September 7.

"We can no longer recognize the proposed appropriations from the August 25 NEP as submitted, and delayed submission [to the DBM] last August 14," said Lacson in a mix of English and Filipino.

Why higher funding for local projects?

Lacson pointed out that funding for the local infrastructure program went up, yet the network development program got cuts.

The network development program includes road widening, construction of bypass roads, and building of flyovers, among others.

"What I noticed is a pattern. That's why I'm asking if there were intervention from some legislators. In general, what we saw is that funding for local projects shot up, while there was a huge cut for national projects," said Lacson in a mix of English and Filipino.

Based on Lacson's computation, the local program increased by P52.85 billion, amounting to P229.01 billion. The network development program, meanwhile, was slashed by P21.45 billion.

HUGE DIFFERENCE. Senator Panfilo Lacson shows a comparison of the DPWH's programs under the 2021 NEP versus what the DPWH submitted late to Congress.

Screenshot from Senate Youtube stream

As an example, Lacson said the amount for multipurpose buildings totaled around P67 billion.

"The theme of the 2021 budget is Reset, Rebound, Recover. I wonder how would multipurpose buildings contribute to [the] Reset, Rebound, Recover theme of the national budget. My question is, what happened?" he said.

Villar explained that the numbers under the NEP, as submitted by the DBM, were only the "indicative ceiling."

"Basically the one we submitted [late] was adjusted based on our priority programs. That's the reason for the adjustment," he said.

According to Villar, the multipurpose buildings would be of use to the national government, as similar facilities have been used as quarantine centers during the pandemic.

"National is still priority, but we want to do pump priming. Other local projects, we feel are important [too]," Villar added. – Rappler.com

Aika Rey

Aika Rey covers the Philippine Senate for Rappler. Before writing about politicians, she covered budget, labor, and transportation issues.

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