Defending its budget, DPWH says 18 contractors blacklisted

Mara Cepeda
Defending its budget, DPWH says 18 contractors blacklisted
Despite the controversies hounding the DPWH budget, most of the questions of lawmakers during the budget hearing involved parochial concerns of their districts

MANILA, Philippines – The Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) blacklisted at least 18 contractors in a bid to reduce corruption in the wake of the alleged anomalies that hounded its 2019 budget.

Public Works Secretary Mark Villar mentioned this as he defended his agency’s proposed P543-billion budget for 2020 before the House committee on appropriations on Tuesday, August 27. 

During the hearing, Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano asked Villar if the DPWH has kicked off any anti-corruption efforts in the department. 

Villar said the DPWH has a monitoring system that uses drones, satellite technology, and geotagging to counter ghost projects.

“One of the accomplishments of this system is that we blacklisted almost around 18 contractors. This has been the highest it has ever been implemented in the department. At the same time, we track all projects via geotagging. The progress of the projects will be confirmed via satellite photography,” said Villar.

The DPWH budget for this year was the subject of much controversy after Senator Panfilo Lacson accused the House of Representatives of passing a pork-riddled version of the 2019 budget, with the alleged illegal insertions hidden in several congressional districts’ public works funds. 

Then-House majority leader Rolando Andaya Jr admitted that each congressman received P60 million under the 2019 budget to fund their pet projects, while senators got P200 million each.

He insisted this is not a form of the now-unconstitutional Priority Development Assistance Fund or pork barrel, as it does not involve the post-enactment phase of the budget process. Lawmakers, however, still have the power to decide how much funds will be allocated for a specific line item in the budget.

Andaya also accused ex-budget chief Benjamin Diokno of allegedly “inserting” up to P75 billion in the DPWH budget. But Diokno argued that the P75 billion was meant to augment the agency’s budget. He said the additional funds were also aboveboard, as they were part of the budgeting process.

The anomalies caused a budget deadlock that lasted for months, which delayed the passage of the 2019 budget and also led the government to reenact the 2018 budget in the 1st quarter of this year.

President Rodrigo Duterte was able to approve the 2019 budget only in April, but he vetoed P95.3 billion worth of allocations under the DPWH. 

On Tuesday, Cayetano asked Villar point-blank if there are pork barrel funds in the agency’s proposed 2020 budget. Villar replied there aren’t any.

“Mr Chairman, we have shifted to the line item budgeting so there is no pork barrel. The President will not tolerate [this]. That is why we have been doing this, everything has gone through a vigorous process of vetting. And rest assured, Mr Speaker, Mr Chairman, there’s none,” said Villar. 

The Speaker then asked Villar if any lawmaker or Cabinet official “parked” funds in the DPWH budget. Villar once again denied this.

“There’s no such practice in this budget and this administration. We have made sure that it has not occurred. At the same time, at the instruction of our President, we have created a lot of reforms in order to reduce corruption,” said Villar.

“Parking” funds is a term used when a lump sum, often without a specific purpose identified for its use, is listed under the budget of a particular congressional district. The lawmaker of that district is informed by a fellow lawmaker that the allocation is merely listed or “parked,” but will be used for a different project or district.

Despite the huge controversy trailing the DPWH budget, most of the questions of the House committee on appropriations members revolved around parochial concerns of their respective districts.

After interpellating Villar for 4 hours, the panel members terminated the budget hearing for the DPWH, in effect approving the agency’s proposed P534-billion budget for 2020. – Rappler.com

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Mara Cepeda

Mara Cepeda specializes in stories about politics and local governance. She covers the Office of the Vice President, the Senate, and the Philippine opposition. She is a 2021 fellow of the Asia Journalism Fellowship and the Reham al-Farra Memorial Journalism Fellowship of the UN. Got tips? Email her at mara.cepeda@rappler.com or tweet @maracepeda.