Lacson threatens gov’t with P500B budget slash

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    Senator Panfilo Lacson. (Photo handout)

    SEN. Panfilo Lacson yesterday warned that the proposed 2021 national budget of P4.506 trillion could be slashed by more than P500 billion if budget officials fail to justify the “errata” appropriations of the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH).

    Lacson made the warning as he bared that the P469 billion lump sum appropriation he earlier discovered in the DPWH budget has gone up to P532.3 billion as of Monday.

    In his continuing scrutiny of the 2021 National Expenditure Program (NEP) submitted by Malacañang, Lacson said he found more questionable “re-appropriations” involving the agency’s infrastructure projects.

    “In our continuing efforts to scrutinize the 2021 National Expenditure Program, particularly on the issue of ‘re-appropriations’ and ‘lump sum appropriations’ involving infrastructure projects under the DPWH, we have found that the initial amount of P73.5 billion covering 2,933 items has now ballooned to P135.8 billion involving 5,913 projects – thus effectively increasing the total questionable appropriations to P532.3 billion from the initial P469 billion that we exposed earlier, including lump sums in the amount of P396.4 billion,” he said.

    “Considering the projects under ‘Operations’ in the proposed budget of the DPWH has total appropriations of P613.1 billion, easily 87 percent or P532.3 billion is deemed questionable,” he added.

    Last week, Lacson grilled the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) why fresh funding were being sought for 2,933 DPWH infrastructure projects when these were already funded in the current 2020 national budget.

    He likewise questioned lump sum appropriations in the amount of P396.4 billion which were “parked” in the DPWH central office.

    Lacson had said the DBM could have been hard-pressed to re-appropriate the funds due to the late submission by the DPWH of its proposed budget for next year, which the senator could have been due to “haggling” for infrastructure projects by some members of the House of Representatives “for projects to be pre-inserted or embedded in the NEP.”

    Budget Secretary Wendel Avisado promised senators he would ask the DPWH to submit a corrected itemized copy of its proposed budget for 2021.

    Lacson said the re-appropriation of funds could not be considered a simple “typographical” or “minor” error which lawmakers can easily sweep under the rug and forget.

    The act, he said, was legally questionable.

    “Having said all that, a legal question needs to be addressed as we progress in our plenary budget deliberations: Will this kind of ‘errata’ be allowed by the Senate, or Congress for that matter, if the items to be rectified do not involve simple typographical errors or other similar minor errors like interchanged or misplaced items in the NEP?” Lacson said.

    He warned: “If my colleagues will not allow such major rectification, we may see a 2021 GAA (General Appropriations Act) that is reduced by more than half a trillion pesos.”