Budget Watch

‘Almost criminal:’ Senators question DSWD over P83-billion unused funds

Bonz Magsambol

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‘Almost criminal:’ Senators question DSWD over P83-billion unused funds

File photo of the Philippine senators

Joseph Vidal/Senate PRIB

(UPDATED) Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph Recto urges the DSWD 'to act like a Santa Claus on overdrive' and quickly disburse its unused funds

Senators questioned the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) over P83 billion in funds that remain unused as millions of Filipinos still reel from the pandemic and the recent typhoons.

During the Senate budget deliberations on Tuesday, November 17, Senator Imee Marcos, who is tasked to defend the DSWD 2021 budget, told her colleagues that over P83 billion from the agency’s past budgets have not been spent due to “difficulty in disbursing during the period of COVID-19, during the repeated typhoons.”

“Not to distribute P83 billion to our affected countrymen is almost criminal. I say that with emphasis,” Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon said.

“There are 10 million Filipinos who lost their jobs. Five million are experiencing hunger for the last 3 months. And yet, we have P83 billion unexpended sums in the bank accounts of the DSWD,” he said in a mix of English and Filipino.

“This is almost criminal. This cannot continue. We have the money but we’re not using it to help those in need,” he added.

Marcos said that the DSWD has P75 billion in unspent funds for 2020, while some P6.7 billion from the two Bayanihan laws remain unobligated. The agency also has P1.5 billion in unused funds from 2019.

Marcos said she was also dismayed about the delays, but insisted that the pandemic “rendered any distribution extremely difficult.”

Meanwhile, Senator Francis Pangilinan suggested filing a resolution urging the executive department to “fast track” the releases of the unspent funds, which was agreed upon by other senators.

“The Senate [should] come up with a resolution that fast tracks releases because our people are dying, our people our hungry, and our people are jobless,” Pangilinan said.

‘Act like Santa Claus’

In a statement on Wednesday, Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph Recto urged the DSWD “to act like a Santa Claus on overdrive” and disburse quickly its unused funds. 

“Midnight of December 31 is the Cinderella hour for these funds. If they have not been obligated, their validity automatically expires on January 1,” Recto said.

Recto said he filed a bill extending the validity of the Bayanihan 2 Law so that “stranded funds can still be spent next year.”

However, Recto warned that even if it becomes a law, Bayanihan 2 covers only a small part of the unspent DSWD funds, “in the neighbourhood of P6 billion for the second SAP, the cash aid for poor families.”

“That’s the tip. The iceberg is some P75 billion. That money, we’ve been told, is now with the DSWD. If it has been obligated, the next step is to disburse it with urgency.”

“Yung P6 billion may appear as small in this era of trillion-peso budgets, pero puwede mo nang ibili ng 6 million bags of rice na tig-25 kilos,” Recto added.

(P6 billion may appear small in this era of trillion-peso budgets, but you can use the fund to buy 6 million bags of rice worth P25 per kilo.) – Rappler.com

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Bonz Magsambol

Bonz Magsambol covers the Philippine Senate for Rappler.