Budget Watch

Districts get billions of public works funds in House budget bill – Lacson

Aika Rey

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Districts get billions of public works funds in House budget bill – Lacson

PANFILO LACSON. Senator Panfilo Lacson presides over on Tuesday, September 29, 2020, the Committee on Finance Subcommittee C hybrid hearing on the proposed P344.5 million budget of the Dangerous Drugs Board (DBB) and the P2.75 billion of the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) for 2021.

File photo by Joseph Vidal/Senate PRIB

'I remember… we're already surprised when we hear that a district gets P500 million in allocation. Now, we're looking at billions,' says Senator Panfilo Lacson

Senator Panfilo Lacson on Thursday, November 19, said congressmen made huge public works fund realignments to their districts in the 2021 budget bill, with amounts as high as P5.6 billion.

A certain congressional district got the largest share of public works funds for a total of P15 billion, dwarving the “individual insertions of senators” according to Lacson. The total allocation for districts amounted to P477 billion of the over P600-billion DPWH budget.

Lacson, who interpellated the budget of the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) at the Senate, presented on Thursday, November 19, the allocations of 100 unnamed districts in the 2021 General Appropriations Bill (GAB).

Screengrab from Senator Panfilo Lacon’s presentation
Screengrab from Senator Panfilo Lacon’s presentation

“I remember, I think two administrations ago, we’re already surprised when we hear that a district gets P500 million in allocation. Now, we’re looking at billions – from 1 to 220 districts – more than P1 billion. Our source here is the [House of Representatives] itself,” said Lacson in a mix of English and Filipino.

“According to my sources, they had a hand in the preparation of this list. So I am not blaming the department when it appears this way, Mr President, because practically, the congressmen made this list,” the senator added.

The GAB, being deliberated at the Senate plenary, included the realignments made by congressmen from the National Expenditure Program submitted by the executive.

From Lacson’s list, the highest increase in DPWH funds was at P5.68 billion, which already had a proposed P9.67 billion in the NEP. The total amount under the budget bill is at P15.35 billion.

While Lacson did not name the district on Thursday, the senator said on November 11 that an urban district in Davao had received P15.351 billion for infrastructure projects.

The second largest allocation went to another district for a total of P10.3 billion in public works funds. This district did not get additional funding under the GAB.

Lacson said that the district with lowest allocation under the proposed DPWH budget got P620 million.

On Thursday, the senator did not name the districts nor the representatives “to focus on the issue at hand instead of the personalities involved.”

Given the huge allocations, Lacson likened senators with individual amendments to officials of barangays – the unit of government with the lowest funding.

“All I can say is pity yourselves. Those of us who have individual insertion would look like barangay kagawads compared to our HOR counterparts,” Lacson said.

‘Skeleton projects’

Lacson added there’s a list of 739 line items for multipurpose buildings with a uniform allocation of P1 million each.

During the opening of the 2021 budget deliberations at the chamber, Lacson wanted some P68 billion worth of infrastructure projects to be reallocated for the coronavirus war chest.

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Lacson bares P68-billion ‘skeleton projects’ in 2021 budget, pushes realignment

Lacson bares P68-billion ‘skeleton projects’ in 2021 budget, pushes realignment

These projects are part of the P135-billion For Later Release (FLR) funds that were discontinued this year to be used for pandemic response.

However, Lacson said that the multipurpose buildings with a P2-million allocation in 2019 was only used to install beams for the buildings.

“If a P2-million project would only come up with a skeleton structure, can you imagine how a multipurpose building with a P1-million allocation would look [like]?” asked Lacson. – 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.