AT least 42 districts nationwide were each allotted a P1-million fund under the proposed P667.3-billion budget of the Department of Public Works and Highways for 2021, Sen. Panfilo “Ping” Lacson disclosed yesterday as the Senate continued to scrutinize the proposed 2021 National Expenditure Program (NEP) worth P4.5 trillion.
“We came across a P1-million budget which was uniformly appropriated to several districts, I think 42 districts all over the country. What does this mean? This means that these were the insertions made, but inserted not anymore under the GAB [General Appropriations Bill] but in the NEP as submitted very late by the DPWH,” Lacson told ANC.
Lacson did not give details as to the insertions but said these could have been the result of the haggling between a number of congressmen and the DPWH before the agency submitted its “itemized” budget to the DBM on September 7, or 12 days late of the August 25 deadline.
“But it seems, as per information coming from some congressmen themselves, there was a lot of haggling that went on between DPWH and some congressmen, so much so that the DPWH was not able to submit (its budget proposal) on time. Following that assumption that there was haggling, the breakdown of the budget proposal of the DPWH really came from the congressmen which had (budget) increases in local projects, especially on multi-purpose buildings, P67 million worth of MPBs,” Lacson said.
Lacson pointed to budget cuts in national projects such as roads and bridges and increased allocations for local projects like MPBs in the budget proposal of the DPWH.
He said congressmen violated the budget process when they went straight to the DPWH and lobbied for the inclusion of their local projects in the agency’s NEP entry.
“NEP is under the Executive. That is in the preparation phase. Maybe it’s not illegal but it’s in violation of the budget process because preparation starts with the budget ceiling given or issued by the DBM to the different agencies, and the agencies will be summoned to a budget call,” he said.
Lacson had been criticizing the House of Representatives’ move to introduce P20-billion worth of institutional amendments to the General Appropriations Bill (GAB) which the lower house already passed on third and final reading last October 16.
Lacson said they have yet to see, much so review, the House version of the proposed money measure to determine if it is indeed pork-free as claimed by Speaker Lord Allan Velasco. The House leadership had promised to transmit a soft copy of the budget bill to the Senate on October 28.
“It’s not a matter of recognizing or accepting whatever amendments they will send to us.
Anyway, the budget process has not been completed. And even the authorization phase has not been completed and that can be easily remedied or cured by the Senate version and eventually during our bicameral conference,” Lacson said.
Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman yesterday reminded senators that the practice of creating a small House committee tasked to review amendments to the annual proposed budget is a
tradition that dates back to the 8th Congress.
“This tradition on the work of the small committee dates back to the 8th Congress and the composition and task of the small committee to effect amendments were authorized and ratified by the plenary on 16 October 2020,” Lagman said in a statement. “This more than three-decade old tradition is well known to the senators who have accepted it for a long period of time.”
The opposition lawmaker was reacting to Lacson who has been insisting that errata or amendments introduced to the GAB after its approval on third and final reading are unconstitutional as stated in Article VI, Sec. 26, Paragraph 2 of the 1987 Constitution.
Due to time constraints, the limited timetable set in the President’s call for a short four-day special session for the House to consider and approve the GAB without further delay, and the insistence of some senators for the House to transmit it to them at the soonest time possible, Lagman said the House had no choice but to approve the bill on second reading “subject to the amendments to be approved by the small committee, which colatilla (was) necessarily applied to the approval on third reading.”
Lagman said what was approved on third and final reading is the second reading copy of the GAB subject to the amendments to be approved by the small committee led by majority leader Martin Romualdez and ACT-CIS party-list Rep. Eric Yap, chair of the committee on appropriations.
“Consequently, the amendments to be approved by the small committee are pursuant to the conditional approval of the GAB on second and third readings pending the incorporation of the amendments to be effected by the small committee,” he said.
In the authorization stage of the annual budget process, both the House and the Senate conduct hearings and meetings where the departments and agencies justify their budget proposals and may request for institutional amendments, Lagman said.
“The House and the Senate do not perform their respective roles during the authorization stage in a vacuum,” he said.
Deputy speaker Salvador Leachon of Oriental Mindoro earlier said the P20 billion institutional amendments introduced by the small committee were mere “corrections of style” and “errata” and not actual changes to the proposed P4.5-trillion national budget for 2021 contrary to Lacson’s claim.
Congressmen said they are planning on submitting their proposed individual amendments during the bicameral meetings with senators. – With Wendell Vigilia