Cynthia Villar defends DPWH underspending under son Mark

Camille Elemia
Senator Cynthia Villar responds to the issues raised by Senator Panfilo Lacson during budget deliberations

UNDERSPENDING. Senator Cynthia Villar explains the causes of underspending of the Department of Public Works and Highways under his son, Secretary Mark Villar. Photo by Angie de Silva/Rappler

MANILA, Philippines – Senator Cynthia Villar on Thursday, October 5, defended the underspending of the Department of Public Works and Highway (DPWH) under the leadership of her son.

Villar came to the defense of Public Works Secretary Mark Villar in response  to the comment of Senator Panfilo Lacson during the interpellation on the general provisions of the proposed P3.727-trillion budget for 2018.

Lacson was questioning Senate finance committee chair Loren Legarda on the underspending of agencies led by the DPWH and the Department of Education.

“This is not intended to put on the spot, ito ‘yung tops [na] meron highest unused appropriation. I’m sorry, nandito ‘yung nanay – number 1 ‘yung DPWH. May mga reason naman siguro (These are the agencies which have the highest unused appropriation. I’m sorry the mother is here – number 1 is DPWH. There may be reasons),” Lacson said.

Legarda said in jest, “Tatayo yata ‘yung nanay (Looks like the mother will stand up).”

Lacson said the country loses 4% of its gross domestic product (GDP) because of underspending and cited data from 2016.

“Ibig sabihin po nito, kung nagkatotoong walang underspending noong 2016 – I don’t know kung tama po ang pagkakaintindi – dapat pumalo nang mahigit 10% ang ating GDP growth rate (This means if there was no underspending in 2016 – I don’t know if I understood it right – our GDP growth rate could have reached more than 10%),” he said.

Villar then interjected, with Legarda reminding her that they were not yet discussing the details of the DPWH budget.

Villar said she just wanted to clarify the issue and went on to explain the reasons for the DPWH’s underspending in 2017. The senator said this year’s budget was approved by the previous administration.

She also said there is “something wrong” with how the DPWH budget was being formulated.

“I just want to clarify….This budget, the past budget we’re talking about, is the budget passed by the previous administration. And the DPWH took over almost half year di ba (right)? That’s almost middle of last year. And besides, I think there is something wrong with how they make the DPWH budget,” Villar said.

Villar said budget proponents ask for allocations for both the right of way and construction of infrastructure in the same year.

Villar, whose business is property and land development, said this should not be the case because it takes almost a year to fix the right of way issue. Only then, she said, can construction begin.

The construction budget automatically becomes part of the unspent allocation of the agency, she said.

“That’s why I’m always saying to the DPWH that you have to ask the proponents to put first the budget for right of way, take care of right of way, and then next year, ask for the construction budget, so the underspending will go down,” Villar said.

“The proponents – they’re so excited about the budget. They want all the budget and the result, they’re not able to implement the budget. That’s why there’s a lot of underspending at the DPWH,” she added.

Lacson then responded, “In other words, it’s poor planning.”

Lacson ackwnowledged the problem and said he “could not agree more” with the lady senator.

“That’s the problem. Whenever congressmen make their insertions, we noticed sinasabay na nila right of way doon sa construction ng road (they ask for the budget of the right of way at the same time as the budget for the road construction).”

Villar said politicians should address the issue by “controlling themselves.”

“That’s the problem. We should be able to control ourselves not to do this,” she said.

Lacson ended the discussion by telling Villar that the plenary should return to the debates on the budget’s general principles, as scheduled. – Rappler.com

Camille Elemia

Camille Elemia is Rappler's lead reporter for media, disinformation issues, and democracy. She won an ILO award in 2017. She received the prestigious Fulbright-Hubert Humphrey fellowship in 2019, allowing her to further study media and politics in the US. Email camille.elemia@rappler.com