Check your facts, Ping told: Solon denies Velasco allies got fatter infra budgets

    1304

    A HOUSE leader who is a trusted lieutenant of Speaker Lord Allan Velasco yesterday told Sen. Panfilo “Ping” Lacson to first verify his information as he denied the senator’s claim that congressional districts of lawmakers allied with the new leadership were given bigger allocations under the proposed P4.5-trillion national budget for 2021.

    “We (the new House leadership) didn’t increase or decrease district allocations of any member,” senior deputy speaker Salvador Leachon of Oriental Mindoro said in a text message.

    If Lacson’s allegations that infrastructure allocations of several congressional districts got fatter turn out to be true, Leachon said Lacson should “look at the concerned districts if at all they’re allied with the current (House) leadership.”

    “For sure, they’re not (allied with the Velasco leadership), granting they’re (Lacson’s allegations) true,” said the lawmaker who is a stalwart of the ruling party PDP-Laban.

    While the bulk of the House-approved version of the 2021 budget was approved under the leadership of former speaker Alan Peter Cayetano, the General Appropriations Bill (GAB) was approved on third and final reading under the leadership of Velasco who took the helm from Cayetano after winning the support of the majority.

    Lacson had claimed that the proposed infrastructure appropriations for the 2021 for a number of congressional districts increased after the House changed its leadership last month, pointing out the supposed unequal distribution of infrastructure allocations after Velasco took over the House leadership in October.

    Lacson said the differences became glaring when his office reviewed the infra allocations in the National Expenditure Program (NEP) as prepared by Malacañang and compared them with the House-approved GAB.

    He cited as example the infrastructure allocation of P9 billion of one district that was increased to P15 billion after Velasco assumed office, while other districts which had P4 to 5 billion allocations were increased by another P4 to 5 billion.

    During the committee deliberations on the budget of the Department of Public Works and Highways last September, Negros Oriental Rep. Arnolfo Teves accused the Cayetano leadership of alleged “unequal distribution” of infrastructure budget among various districts.

    Camarines Sur Rep. Luis Raymund Villafuerte, who represents the second district of Camarines Sur, had said his district’s budget only seems bloated because of two flagship projects approved by the National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA): the CamSur Expressway and the Pasacao-Balatan Tourism Highway.

    Villafuerte said the same thing happened to Taguig City, represented by the former speaker and his wife Lani, because of the C-6 road which is a national road.

    Deputy speaker Joselito Atienza said Lacson’s observations were “duly noted” and vowed to thresh it out when the House contingent meet with senators in the bicameral level.

    “The proposed 2021 national budget will still go through a bicameral conference where the Senate and the House will reconcile their versions,” Atienza said. “We are confident that all these issues about the budget will be threshed out during the bicam.”

    Probinsyano Ako Rep. Jose Singson Jr. said the 2021 GAB was almost or already complete even before President Duterte called for a four-day special session to allow the House to approve it on final reading last month.

    “You cannot expect the new leadership to go over the voluminous budget bill and examine every item therein in just four days,” he said, adding that some items in the GAB that may have been overlooked during the special session “given the very short deadline.”

    PITC ‘PARKING’

    Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon yesterday said the “parked” funds in the Philippine International Trading Corporation (PITC) was even greater than the P9.176 billion he exposed last week, as he scored the Governance Commission on Government-Owned and Controlled Corporations (GCG) for its failure to monitor the agency’s transactions.

    Drilon, in an interview with ANC, said that a thorough review of a Commission on Audit report on PITC showed that the “little-known trading agency called PITC” has actually more than P33.4 billion under it from 2015 to date.

    Based on COA findings, various government agencies have tapped PITC to procure things they needed but it turned out that the PITC has consistently failed to deliver through the years.

    He said in 2015, PITC customers deposited a total of P4.8 billion in it, and it increased to P10.9 billion in 2016, then to P19.7 billion in 2017, to P30.7 billion in 2018 until it reached P33.4 billion in 2019.

    Drilon said various government agencies “engage the services of this little-known trading agency and pass on the budget there so that they will say that these are already obligated, when in fact, they are just deposited.”

    Drilon also hit the PITC for making huge profits for them to purchase things needed by another government agency. “I have been told that they are authorized to collect anywhere from four percent for projects P25 million and below, and one percent for projects worth P700 million and above. I have to check this. I understand this has some authority in a presidential decree or EO (Executive Order). Let me check that,” he said.

    He added: “They charge what you call a service fee which is anywhere between 1 to 5 percent. Therefore, their profits in 2019, it made over P629M on the basis of the COA reports. How much of that was remitted to the government?”

    Drilon specifically cited the Bureau of Fire Protection which deposited to the PITC some P3.27 billion in 2019 for the purchase of 242 fire trucks which were still undelivered at present. He said the BFP also tapped the PITC to construct 98 fire stations but were still undelivered just the same.

    In 2016, the Philippine National Police also deposited P1.347 billion to the PITC for the purchase of firearms, but only P311 million worth of firearms have been delivered.

    “The PITC is a can of worms. We will investigate this,” he said.

    Sen. Panfilo Lacson said utilizing PITC for the purchase of several national government agencies must be revisited and stopped to save on unnecessary expenses. “Since the creation of the Government Procurement Service under the Department of Budget and Management, the PITC may have outlived its purpose. Initially, it was only used to circumvent the procurement of medicines, especially for emergency needs. But later, it has expanded into the procurement of other items like rice,” Lacson said in a statement.

    Drilon urged the government to reconsider its decision to task PITC for the purchase of COVID-19 vaccines due to the agency’s poor delivery of services, and instead tap other government procurement service units like the Procurement Services of the Department of Budget and Management.

    “It is really unfortunate. I repeat, at P20 billion purchase of vaccines, the commission will run to something to P200 million in commissions alone. Going into that, the budget only provided for P8 billion for the purchase of Covid-19 vaccines,” he said. – With Raymond Africa