MANILA, Philippines – Congress has ratified the 2018 budget bill, with the final version restoring the P50.7 billion that a senator initially removed from the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) in the bicameral draft amid road right-of-way (RROW) issues.
Congress also allocated an additional P11 billion for the DPWH.
Senator Panfilo Lacson slammed the move and questioned Senate finance committee chair Loren Legarda.
It was Lacson who earlier proposed to slash the P50.7 billion from the DPWH budget due to its failure to justify the need for RROW funds and to specify claimants. The proposal was approved by senators in plenary and became a subject of scrutiny for other lawmakers.
Lacson has maintained ROW issues needed to be settled first before civil works should start, as he earlier claimed the existence of “pork-like” funds in the DPWH.
“I found out, all the amendments I introduced [amounting to P50.7 billion] were restored and P11 billion was added,” Lacson said on Tuesday, December 12.
Lacson said the DPWH belatedly submitted the list of claimants for the P50.7 billion, and even included John Doe’s and unknowns as claimants for amounts up to P164 million.
The senator, however, said he is willing to look past that now, and vowed to revive the issue in the 2019 budget deliberations. Lacson said he wants to know the specific projects included in the additional P11 billion.
“Now I want to find out the details of the P11 billion. Kanikaninong projects ‘yun? (Whose projects are those?) We decided not to pursue the P50.7 billion anymore despite John Does and unknowns in the list of claimants because that’s another issue altogether,” Lacson said, citing the right-of-way scam that the Senate public works committee is investigating.
Legarda, however, could not provide the list of projects Lacson wanted. She claimed these are not lump sum amounts and that she would submit the list next week.
“It will be submitted to him and will be broken down line by line. It’s not a lump sum amount. Before break, we will submit. For full transparency, just to be sure, it’s a line-by-line breakdown. Just so the body knows,” Legarda said.
Lacson lamented how they were merely given a list of general summary of the approved version in the bicam.
He also said they received the information on Monday afternoon or barely 24 hours before bicam members signed the final version on Tuesday, past 1 pm.
Lacson said it was earlier agreed that a smaller bicam group would be given authority to reconcile differences, provided that the rest of the members would be informed of the changes at least 24 hours earlier.
“We received the bicam report yesterday (Monday) afternoon at 5 pm. And what we received were summaries of appropriation in lump sum numbers, including amendments. I did not attend the bicam held in the Senate at 1:30 pm (Tuesday) because I was still studying the report of the small group bicam,” he said.
In the end, the Senate and the House ratified the bicam version of the 2018 budget. It would now be sent to President Rodrigo Duterte for signing into law. – Rappler.com
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