ZAMBOANGA SIBUGAY, Philippines – It’s a no-retreat, no-surrender scenario for presidential survey tail-ender Senator Panfilo “Ping” Lacson as he continued with his campaign tour in the Zamboanga Peninsula region. There, he promised to use hundreds of billions of pesos of unused public funds in the country’s annual budgets in the last decade for countryside development if he succeeds in his presidential bid.
Lacson told a news conference in Kabalasan town in Zamboanga Sibugay province on Thursday, March 31, that he estimates unutilized funds in the national budget in the last 10 years to have reached between P300 billion to P400 billion.
“We can download this unspent money to the local government units to develop themselves,” said Lacson after he paid a courtesy call to Kabasalan Mayor Katrina Balladares, a supporter of presidential survey frontrunner former senator Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr.
Lacson said he would also pursue a legislative agenda for budget reforms that would empower villages.
A Senate bill he authored to guarantee an annual local development fund for local governments from the provincial down to the barangay levels so they could implement their development plans failed to muster enough support in the House of Representatives, he said.
Lacson’s proposal would have meant that provinces would receive an additional P500 million to P1 billion while cities would each get P100 million to P200 million every year.
Every town government would also be entitled to P50 million to P100 million, with each barangay receiving P3 million to P5 million annually, based on Lacson’s proposal.
“The money can help the LGUs in financing local programs and projects,” Lacson said.
Kabalasan agriculture officer Miladel Capitania said the proposal, if approved, would help the town government as it faces the challenge of addressing urgent problems about its damaged irrigation system, and low farm gate prices of unhusked rice.
“Presently, the municipal government can only do so much to address the problem,” she said.
Lacson said a president can have the unspent appropriations downloaded to local governments even without legislation.
This way, he said, the national government would be “like a big brother looking over every local government unit, supervising and capacitating.”
“There is a big disconnect between the national budget and the need of local governments nationwide. It is time for us to address this big disconnect by making the LGUs active participants in nation-building,” Lacson said.
Lacson also met with some 300 sectoral representatives in a town hall meeting in Kabalasan, a gathering which senatorial candidate Emmanuel Piñol said their group preferred over big rallies.
“We don’t dance, and we don’t bring entertainers because we want to be serious in our campaign,” Piñol said. – Rappler.com
Antonio Manaytay is a Mindanao-based journalist and an awardee of the Aries Rufo Journalism Fellowship