Budget Watch

Recto doubts DOTr can spend P140-billion budget in 2021

Aika Rey

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'Sa totoo lang, itong P140 billion? I doubt it very much again kung ma-implement 'nyo,' says Senate President Pro-Tempore Ralph Recto

Senate President Pro-Tempore Ralph Recto on Friday, October 2, questioned whether the Department of Transportation could actually spend its proposed P143-billion budget in 2021, given its track record of underspending.

At the DOTr budget hearing at the Senate, Recto quizzed the department how much has it released for projects and how much it requested as proposed budget from the Department of Budget and Management.

According to DOTr Undersecretary Gary de Guzman, the department originally requested for a P500-billion budget in 2021, but the DBM only approved P143 billion.

In terms of disbursement, De Guzman said that around P60 billion has yet to be spent from this year’s budget. Another P60 billion has yet to be disbursed from their 2019 budget, which is valid until the end of 2020.

During the hearing, Railways Undersecretary Timothy John Batan explained that about P57 billion in payments will be made before the year-end:

  • Advance payments – P27 billion;
  • Progress payments – P15 billion;
  • Right-of-way payments – P15 billion.

Recto, however, said he “doubted” DOTr would be able to disburse the remaining funds in the last 3 months of the year, plus the P10 billion coming from the Bayanihan to Recover as One Act, also known as Bayanihan 2 law.

“You requested roughly half a trillion but the DBM only approved P140 billion because it’s possible that they know you still have around P120 billion in unused appropriations,” said Recto in a mix of English and Filipino.

“Now, my question is why did you request for half a trillion budget?” Recto asked.

De Guzman said that the department requested budget for the programs, based on what they could implement.

Recto interjected: “Eh sa tingin nga ng DBM at sa tingin namin dito, baka hindi nyo kayang i-implement…And the reason why I bring that up is because I think ha, that is poor planning. At nakinig ang DBM na hindi nyo ma-iimplement ang half a trillion na ‘yan. In fact, sa totoo lang, itong P140 billion? I doubt it very much again kung ma-implement ‘nyo.”

(The DBM thought, and we thought here as well, that you can’t use up of all the proposed funds for implementation. And the reason why I brought that up is because I think this is poor plannning. And the DBM listened that you cannot implement programs with half a trillion budget. Honestly, this P140 billion budget? I doubt it very much again if you can use it all up.)

DOTr has been in Recto’s radar when it comes to underspending.

In 2019, the DOTr had a proposed budget of P145.8 billion, but about P46 billion was slashed from it, given the department’s poor disbursement record.

For right-of-way, DOTr only spent 39.2% of its ROW funds in 2017, 40.7% in 2018, and 39.7% in 2019. In 2017, DOTr underspent some P13.60 billion because of “policy shifts.”

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Appeal to increase aviation funds

The transportation department asked senators to restore their P10-billion proposed budget for airport projects.

During the hearing, Senator Sherwin Gatchalian noted that DOTr’s aviation infrastructure program was slashed to a mere P1 million in the proposed 2021 budget, from its P2.4 billion appropriations in 2020.

“Of course, rail is important but the airport is equally as important considering that we are an archipelagic country,” said Gatchalian.

In DOTr’s budget, P107 billion of its proposed P143-billion funds in 2021 would go to railway projects alone. This is about 72% of the entire DOTr proposed budget.

During the hearing, Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines Director General Jim Sydiongco said that the original proposal for airport projects was about P10 billion, which would cover 38 airport projects.

Transportation Secretary Arthur Tugade appealed to Congress to consider restoring the proposed airport funds.

“Tama ho. Kung bibigyan natin ng importansya ‘yung riles ng tren as a mode of transportation, kailangan din natin ‘yung airport, ‘yung maritime, ‘yung road,” said Tugade.

(I agree. If we’re giving importance to railway lines as a mode of transportation, we should also consider giving importance to the airport, the maritime, and road sectors.) – Rappler.com

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Aika Rey

Aika Rey is a business reporter for Rappler. She covered the Senate of the Philippines before fully diving into numbers and companies. Got tips? Find her on Twitter at @reyaika or shoot her an email at aika.rey@rappler.com.