AT A GLANCE
MANILA, Philippines – The budget is a political tool.
This was what then-budget chief Benjamin Diokno told reporters in a briefing late 2017, when lawmakers critical of President Rodrigo Duterte complained that funds for their districts suffered deep cuts or had been completely removed under the 2018 budget.
Back when Davao del Norte 1st district Representative Pantaleon Alvarez was still House speaker, he repeatedly used the budget to sway districts to supporting Duterte's pet bills. In January 2018, he threatened lawmakers they would be getting a "zero budget" if they opposed federalism.
Fast forward to 2019, Alvarez was ousted by his fellow congressmen and replaced by Pampanga 2nd district Representative Gloria Macapagal Arroyo.
The budget for this year is the last fiscal plan to be prepared under the 17th Congress.
The 2019 national budget was prepared during Alvarez' time as House speaker. And it was not spared from controversies that eventually led to budget delay – starting with the new House leadership's rejection of a cash-based budget policy, followed by a slew of corruption allegations led by Camarines Sur 1st district Rolando Andaya against Diokno.
The senators weren't happy with the congressmen's conduct. The budget bill was not passed before the end of 2018, due to the late transmission of the House-approved bill to the Senate.
This gave the Senate little time to scrutinize the budget.
To make matters worse, the controversy dragged on until April with senators accusing congressmen of itemizing infrastructure projects in the budget bill after bicameral conference committee talks, in such a way that these projects would "benefit" the localities of the House leadership and their allies.
In February, Senator Panfilo Lacson said in a privilege speech that Andaya "asserted" that congressmen formerly aligned with Alvarez benefitted from the controversial P75 billion worth of "insertions."
Lacson called the budget bill "cholesterol-rich."
"The new leadership…mangled beyond recognition the [Department of Public Works and Highways]-proposed budget, specifically those projects that they believed were part of the P75 billion," Lacson said.
"Simply put, the apparent pork insertions from the alleged connivance of the [Department of Budget and Management] and the old leadership of the House of Representatives were deliberately reallocated by the newly-assumed leadership as their own pork barrel," he added.
The Senate leadership urged the President to exercise his line-item veto power and remove a total of 2,071 projects under the DPWH worth P95.37 billion, which included the alleged P75-billion "pork."
When Duterte signed the budget bill, he vetoed the projects and placed several others under conditional implementation pending compliance with certain laws.
See the list of projects vetoed below:
Under the National Expenditure Program (NEP), or the proposed budget from the DBM, the funds allocated for the DPWH stood at P555.67 billion or 113.85 billion more than its allocation from 2018. The figure represents a 25.75% hike.
When the budget bill was transmitted to the Office of the President after bicam deliberations, it was trimmed down to P549.39 billion – with a "strong reservation" note from the Senate. After the veto, DPWH is now only at P454.02 billion.
What could possibly be the source of corruption in infrastructure funds if these were not vetoed?
More than half of what was removed from the DPWH's budget fell under the local roads program. Under the 2019 NEP, the funds for local roads should only be at P33.84 billion, but this ballooned to P79.5 billion after congressional deliberations.
When the veto came, the President removed a total of P40.27 billion worth of funds for local roads.
After local roads, about a fifth of what was removed came from the capital outlays for flood control facilities amounting to P22.05 billion. Next to it was the allocation for national roads at P15.89 billion and the funds for the construction of multipurpose buildings or facilities.
Share of the pie
Sorting through the list of the vetoed projects showed that the bulk of the funds were placed under Metro Manila.
The amount was a staggering P76.13 billion, followed by a far second, Davao Region with P4.54 billion. Third was Central Luzon at P4.24 billion.
Rappler found that 68 DPWH offices have a share in the P95.37 billion, with P74.07 billion, or more than a third, allocated under the Central Office. The document showed that this would have been implemented in various areas in the country.
It was followed by the Davao del Norte District Engineering Office (DEO) at P2.38 billion and Pampanga 2nd DEO with P2.1 billion.
The DEO in Davao City would have received P1.41 billion.
The DEOs in Bulacan and Abra were the last DEOs to breach the P1-billion mark at P1.23 billion and P1.28 billion, respectively.
The rest of the DEOs received multimillion-peso funds each, ranging from P775 million to P2.8 million.
One could think that because the capital region already has more than enough infrastructure, it wouldn't need a bulk of the funds,
The funds under the Central Office showed that 619 projects from 50 provinces would have benefitted from its P74.07 billion allocation.
Of the provinces, Agusan del Norte would have received the most allocation at P6.83 billion for 49 projects, with costs ranging from P88 million to P400 million.
The 5 provinces in the Davao Region all made it to the Top 10, with a total share of at least P19.27 billion or more than a fourth of the total allocation for the Central Office:
A total of 112 projects for the Davao Region were part of the vetoed list or about a fourth of the total projects. The amounts of the projects ranged from P14.85 million to P842.08 million.
At least 64 projects from the total were under local roads and bridges, 21 for the construction of multipurpose facilities, 15 for flood control facilities, 10 for national roads and bridges, a payment of right-of-way, and a feasibility study.
The most expensive project, which cost P842.08 billion, was for a bypass road at the junction of Davao-Cotabato Road and Matina-Aplaya Road to the junction of Tulip Drive in Davao City. The list did not include how long the bypass road was intended to be, but the estimated distance based on the map was about 3 kilometers.
Meanwhile, the non-Davao provinces that made it to Top 10 were Quezon at P4.82 billion, Albay at P4.18 billion, Batangas at P2.65 billion, and Bulacan at P2.4 billion.
At least 20 provinces would have received more than a billion each. The rest of the 30 provinces ranged from P960 million to P90 million, with Nueva Vizcaya having the least allocation.
Who would have the most share?
As funds will not be coming from the DEOs solely, but from the Central Office as well, Rappler combined the total funds that congressional districts would have received under the vetoed P95.37 billion.
Of the legislative districts, Davao City would have gotten the most out of the vetoed funds for a total of P7.43 billion. Davao City was represented by Karlo Nograles, the former House committee on appropriations chairperson, before he left to be the Cabinet Secretary.
He was followed by Agusan del Norte 1st district Representative Lawrence Lemeul Fortun with P5.99 billion for the projects in his district, mostly in Butuan City.
The third district with the most funds allotted was represented by Davao Occidental Lone District Representative Lorna Bautista-Bandigan at P4.5 billion.
Next to her was Alvarez with a total amount of P4.4 billion and then Albay 2nd district Representative Joey Salceda.
Arroyo ranked 6th only at P2.98 billion. Previously, Arroyo pointed at Alvarez for getting "bigger" budgets for their districts. She also said she felt she was "unfairly" accused of the alleged insertions.
Arroyo's allies figured later on the list as well:
Some of Alvarez' deputy speakers during his time, who are now allied with the current leadership, would've gotten considerable funds as well:
'Pork' no more?
During a Kapihan forum in late March, Lacson said the senators were "confident" that Duterte would veto parts of the budget that the Senate had flagged.
When Duterte signed the budget, he did not hesitate to veto the questionable items. (READ: Duterte on 2019 budget standoff: I won't sign anything illegal)
"We do not need to pay attention to brickbats. It's the people's victory. The illegal realignments cannot escape the President's scrutiny," Senate President Vicente Sotto III said.
The veto will result in P19.06 billion of savings in "pork commission" – supposedly 20% of the vetoed funds, according to Lacson.
With the budget now passed, the Philippines is now operating on a fresh budget that will allow new programs and projects to be implemented.
The reenacted budget during the 1st quarter of the year has hurt the country's growth prospects – a 4-year low during the 1st quarter at 5.6%. A catch-up plan will be implemented to offset lower spending in the 1st quarter, according to economic managers.
While the passage of the budget and the deletion of the "pork" insertions resulted in some gains, these also left behind others who were defeated in the power struggle.
With the veto, Alvarez and Davao congressmen in the 17th Congress were the biggest losers – another blowback for Alvarez after the House coup. (READ: Even after House coup, Alvarez wants to be Speaker again) – Rappler.com