SEN. Panfilo “Ping” Lacson yesterday pressed for a P60-billion cut in the proposed budget of the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) as he sought to realign billions of pesos in the proposed P4.5-trillion national budget for 2021 to augment funding for the administration’s COVID-19 health and economic recovery programs.
Lacson likewise wants P500 million cut from the proposed budget of the National Irrigation Administration (NIA) and P2.5 billion from the Department of Environment and Natural Resources’ (DENR) national greening projects.
“First things first. We should first address the pandemic and its effects: health issues, development, recovery of the economy. These are what we need to address in the 2021 budget,” Lacson said.
The senator said the DPWH can do away with the P60-billion allocation, which is intended to build hundreds of multi-purpose buildings (MPBs), for projects with double appropriations, for overlapping projects, and for road right-of-way payments.
The DPWH has allocated more than P68 billion for the construction of MPBs next year, while Lacson said some P6.8 billion was allotted for overlapping projects and those with double appropriations.
“I want the budget to be responsive to the sign of the times. I want it to be responsive to the budget philosophy of Reset, Rebound, and Recover. These are what we need for 2021.
Not the multi-purpose buildings, not the double appropriations, not the right-of-way that cannot be accomplished anyway,” he said.
On the other hand, Lacson said the P500 million cut from the P32 billion proposed budget of the NIA was “due to some implementation issues” in the various previous years.
He did not elaborate on DENR’s national greening projects.
Lacson said P20 billion from the P63 billion cut can be realigned as financial support to local government units hit by the recent typhoons for assistance to evacuation centers and quarantine facilities, for livelihood, and for reconstruction.
Still under his proposal, Lacson said at least P12 billion can go to the Department of Information and Communications Technology “to at least start its P18-billion national broadband program” which, he said, will end the government’s reliance on private telecommunication firms and result to a P34-billion savings in five years, and the realization of the long-delayed free WiFi program.
Lacson also said at least P8 billion can go to the Department of Health (DOH) for its Universal Health Care Program via the Health Facilities Enhancement Program (HFEP) which he said needs at least P13 billion.
He said additional budget for the flexible learning options of the Department of Education will also be in place.
Lacson said he did push his initial plan to slash the P4.5-billion confidential and intelligence funds under the Office of the President for next year after learning that these are also being distributed to other agencies.
The P4.5 billion confidential and intelligence funds make up 55 percent of the total allocation for the President’s office for next year which is at P8.19 billion.
“I also planned to have it reduced because P4.5 billion is only for the President but when I asked around from the police, military and even in the intelligence community, the President distributes it to them to augment their own intelligence funds… After hearing that information, I did not push through with my plan to support the reduction of the presidential confidential and intelligence fund, as long as it is put to good use),” he said.
Taguig-Pateros Rep. Alan Peter Cayetano urged his colleagues in the House and the Senate to make public all changes made by the two Houses to the proposed 2021 budget before they meet in the bicameral level to reconcile the differing provisions.
Cayetano said this would stop any lawmaker from spreading “fake news” against his or her colleagues, especially against the former House leadership which prepared bulk of the House-approved version of the budget which was adopted under the leadership of Speaker Lord Allan Velasco.
“Before they hold bicameral meetings, maybe they should release to the public which items were amended by the House and the Senate for the public to see. We did it in my time, it wasn’t published but we sent to the Senate in flash drive which items were changed so they knew before they voted on it,” he told reporters.
Cayetano said doing so would be fair to all House and Senate leaders and would also prevent the possibility of a presidential veto and the old, questionable practice of placing some allocations under the “for later release” category.
While he has not seen the entire House-approved version under Velasco, Cayetano said the budget of some districts with NEDA-approved big-ticket items have been slashed by a small portion.
He noted that some allocations worth P700 billion were brought down to P600 billion or P550 billion while those worth P500 billion went down to between P350 billion to P400 billion.
‘NO PARKED FUNDS’
Meanwhile, Philippine International Trading Corporation (PITC) president and chief executive officer Dave Almarinez yesterday took exemption against the recent claims of “park funding” in the agency, denying that it maintains idle funds in behalf of various government agencies in order to circumvent auditing and budgetary obligations.
Almarinez said there was no basis to denigrate the agency as unworthy to be the government’s procurement arm in the acquisition of COVID-19 vaccines.
“We should not be seen as a threat or hindrance to the vaccination program because we don’t even have the power to choose which vaccine to buy. We are not involved in any way in the decision-making process. All policy recommendations on the supply of COVID-19 vaccines will emanate from the newly-formed task force headed by former General Carlito Galvez, and of course, our President,” Almarinez said.
“We’d like to assure our esteemed law-makers that we are not a valet service for obligated but unused funds of various government agencies. Neither do we operate a parking lot to gain commissions on the side,” he said.
The PITC said it has records that will show that it has reverted back to the National Treasury all unutilized funds of client-agencies covering the periods 2019 and prior years and fully liquidated funds utilized for the procurement of goods and services for those years. – With Wendell Vigilia