Senate to remove P8 billion right-of-way funds in 2019 budget
MANILA, Philippines – Senators have agreed on Wednesday, January 16, to remove some P8 billion worth of right-of-way acquisition funds from the proposed budget of the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH).
During the Senate deliberations on the 2019 General Appropriations Bill, Senator Panfilo Lacson revealed that of P20.6 billion right-of-way funds in 2018, around P7 billion remained unused.
In the proposed budget, P28.89 billion was alloted for acquiring right-of-way for infrastructure projects.
Since the validity of the 2018 budget was extended by the Congress, Senator Loren Legarda, chair of the committee on finance, said that the DPWH has agreed to remove the funds in their 2019 right-of-way acquisition budget.
"We will also look into the possibility of scaling down the right-of-way budget because of the continuation of the 2018 budget, where they still have the budget of P7 billion. We can take out the P8 billion from the 2019 budget and it can be used for other departments' budgets that need to be restored as well," Legarda said.
Legarda said that the allocation can be used to restore budget for the Health Facilities Enhancement Program under the Department of Health
She also said that removing the said allocation will not affect the DPWH drastically, as release of funds for right-of-way "may be done by June anyway" due to the election ban.
"By the time they can use it, half a year has already passed. It's June already. They won't be able to use the entire budget for right-of-way anyway, even if we slash P7 billion to P8 billion. We'll see. So that the claimants are also not affected. We'll see what can be used and what can be implemented," Legarda said in a mix of English and Filipino.
Under the Omnibus Election Code, the Commission on Election prohibits construction of public works and the release, disbursement, or expenditure of funds from March 29 to May 12.
The Senate eyes to pass the 2019 national budget by the first week of February. The President will only be able to sign the budget once the bicameral conference committee has ironed out the contradicting provisions in the budget.
Purchasing dredging equipment
Senators have also agreed to convert the budget allocated for contracting out dredging waterways for flood control to instead purchasing the equipment needed for the work, in a bid to avoid corruption.
Senator Franklin Drilon, citing his experience in Iloilo, said that it only cost the regional district engineering office around P37.5 million to purchase two dredging equipment, than paying for contractors that could cost as much as P150 million.
"May I request that, since the previous DPWH secretary Rogelio Singson was already starting this program, that we purchase dredging machine rather than contracting out dredging because it is a source of corruption," Drilon said.
DPWH said that around P114 billion was allocated in the proposed budget.
Legarda had asked the DPWH to identify dredging projects in the proposal which they will convert to capital outlay expenses for the equipment.
Budget will be allocated for hiring workers to operate the equipment.
The total proposed budget of the DPWH for 2019 is P555.7billion, P93 billion lower than the 2018 allocation due to the shift to cash-based budgeting. (READ: DPWH on cash-based 2019 budget: ‘Challenging, but we will adjust’) – Rappler.com