SEN. Panfilo Lacson yesterday questioned a P257 billion appropriation in the 2019 national budget which he claimed the government has not spent.
Lacson, who scrutinized the proposed P4.1-trillion national budget for next year for possible “pork” insertions from the House of Representatives, chided financial officials for asking huge amounts of funds when it still has unspent funds in the coffers.
“Here we are, borrowing more than what we need kasi gusto natin mag-build up ng cash.
Pero taon-taon ang laking hindi nagagamit sa budget. (Here we are, borrowing more than what we need because we want to build up our cash. But every year, there are unspent funds.) It doesn’t make sense. We borrow to build up cash position pero pag total natin ito, ang estimate namin mga P257B (but if we sum it up, our estimate is that it will reach P257 billion),” Lacson said during his interpellation of the 2020 General Appropriations Bill (GAB) submitted by the House.
He added: “Why are we enacting the appropriations measure tapos hindi natin nagagamit ang full potential ng budget (and yet we are not using the full potential of the budget?) P257B is a huge amount. Bakit kaya malaki ang unused? (Why is the unutilized funds so huge?)”
Lacson surmised that the unspent budget is a result of poor planning of the government, saying solons, at times, insert bigger budget in an agency with the consent or knowledge of the concerned agency.
He lamented the same has been happening in the past 10 years, with some P450 billion in unspent funds during the past administration.
“There is a disconnect between needs and priorities of local government units and spending program of the national government. How do we narrow the gap? Maybe government should exert efforts to capacitate the LGUs just to avoid the big disconnect between needs and priorities,” Lacson said.
Lacson said the unspent funds were from, among others, the Department of Public Works and Highways (P67.05 billion), Department of Education (P42.83 billion), Department of Transportation (P14.19 billion), Department of National Defense (P11.28 billion), Department of Interior and Local Government (P8.58 billion), Department of Social Welfare and Development (P7.95 billion), Department of Health (P7.55 billion), Commission on Elections (P6.57 billion), State Universities and Colleges (P5.77 billion), and Department of Finance P5.33 billion).
Sen. Imee Marcos agreed there is no need to release all the P4.1 trillion budget for 2020 since the government does not spend the full amount in a year’s time.
Based on records, Marcos said the government has obligated only P2.1 trillion of the P3.73 trillion national budget for 2019, with P1.388 trillion still unobligated.
“I think the release of the P4.1 trillion budget is unnecessary,” she said.
Senate finance committee chair Juan Edgardo Angara, sponsor of the 2020 proposed national budget, said the unobligated P1.388 trillion was due to the delay in the approval of the 2019 budget, which was only approved by President Duterte last April.
Also, Lacson said the country lost at least P161.5 billion in tax revenues from big trading partners due to leakages in 2017.
“Figures from the World Bank’s World Integrated Solution showed big revenue leakages from big trading partners such as China, Korea, Hong Kong, and the Unites States totaling some P161.5 billion. Are there efforts to plug the leakages? Baka hindi na natin kailangan ng additional sin taxes kung ma-plug ang leakages (We might not need additional sin taxes to plug these leakages),” Lacson said.
Lacson called on the Department of Finance, whose proposed budget was tackled, to be efficient in revenue collection so that revenue leakages can be prevented.
The revenue losses came from products imported from China (P82.180 billion), Korea (P10.728 billion), Hong Kong (P4.757 billion), the United States (853.015 million), and transfer pricing abuse in economic zones (P63 billion).
BBB PROGRAM A FAILURE – DRILON
Senate minority leader Franklin Drilon tagged the Build, Build, Build (BBB) program of the Duterte administration as a dismal failure and claimed only nine of the 75 projects are ongoing.
Drilon said the worst performers among the government agencies in terms of disbursements were the DPWH and the DOTr.
“Only nine out of the 75 flagship programs have commenced in terms of actual construction. We barely have less than three years to go… It is in actual construction where there is actual disbursement that would propel our economy. That’s why I’m interested because we started three years ago with 75 projects under our Build, Build, Build program. After over three years, only nine have actually commenced,” Drilon said.
Angara defended the projects were not a failure and said lack of funds have been a big problem in the implementation of the big projects. He said he will ask economic managers which projects are still be doable and which are not.
“Kailangan kong makita muna ang listahan kasi may mga malabong matuloy doon, like ‘yung ikokonekta ang Visayas at Mindanao, medyo malaking distansiya ‘yun (I need to first see the list because there are some projects which may not push through like the bridge that will connect Visayas and Mindanao),” Drilon said.
Chief Presidential Legal Counsel and concurrent presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo countered Drilon and said the Duterte administration had already accomplished “many” infrastructure projects since it assumed office in 2016, even if several other “big ticket” items are still in different stages of implementation.
Branding Drilon’s statement as “baseless,” Panelo said: “Sen. Frank, look at the administration you previously belonged, six years not a single infrastructure na nagawa. Malayong-malayo sa dami (Sen. Frank, look at the administration you previously belonged, six years and not a single infrastructure had been done).”
Citing a DPWH report in a recent Asian forum, Panelo said the agency had already completed constructions of 9,845 kilometers of road; 2,709 bridges; 4,536 flood control projects; 82 evacuation centres; and 71,803 classrooms.
He said the completed projects include the Laguna Lake Highway, the Candon City Bypass Road in Ilocos Sur, the Slaughter House Road in Davao City, the Pulilan-Baliuag Diversion Road in Bulacan, the Calapan-Roxas Road in Oriental Mindoro, the Mandaue Causeway Road in Cebu, the Dipolog-Oriquieta Road in Misamis Occidental, the Dumaguete North Road in Negros Oriental, and the Taytay-El Nido Road in Palawan.
Among the bridges completed include the Anduyan Bridge in La Union, the Bolo-Bolo Bridge in Misamis Oriental, the Caguray Bridge in Occidental Mindoro, the Pasac-Culcul in Pampanga, the Maddiangat Bridge in Nueva Viscaya, and the Pigalo Bridge in Isabela; while the flood control projects include the pumping stations at Barangays Wawang Polo and Coloong, the Flood Risk Management Project for Cagayan River, the Flood Risk Management Project for Tagoloan River, the Leyte Tide Embankment Project, and the Pasig Marikina River Flood Control Project.
The DPWH report also said that apart from the 71,803 classrooms constructed, which benefited more than 3.2 million learners, 67,608 classrooms are currently under various stages of implementation.
Panelo also said that based on the DPWH report alone, there are more than nine BBB projects that are already ongoing.
He named 14 projects that include the Light Rail Transit 1 (LRT 1) Cavite Extension from Baclaran to Cavite which started in May 2019 and is now at 20 percent completion and will be in full operations by 2022; the Metro rail Transit 3 (MRT-3) rehabilitation program which is already ongoing and is expected to be completed by July 2021 while completion of maintenance works will be on December 2022; the Metro Manila Subway that had its ground breaking in February this year and is expected to be partially operated by the second quarter of 2022 completed by third quarter of 2025.
Other projects are the MRT-7 Common Station where one part (Area B) which is already 53 percent complete while the other areas (Areas A and C) are ongoing detailed engineering design and detailed architectural design for station and viaduct; the LRT-2 East Extension that started construction in 2016 and is now 64.85 percent complete and would be completed in the fourth quarter of 2020; the Subic-Clark Railway where the bidding documents are still being finalized; and the Mindanao Railway from Tagum to Davao to Digos which is expected to start construction by the first quarter of 2020.
Panelo said the other projects are the Philippine National Railway (PNR) Clark where the construction of the Phase 1, which covers the areas from Tutuban in Manila to Malolos in Bulacan is already on-going; the PNR Bicol, which extends the Manila-Batangas route to Sorsogon, where the right of way and site acquisition, and processing of loan agreement for the project management consultancy are already being done; and the PNR Calamba where bids for the Package 1 covering Blumentritt in Manila to Calamba in Laguna, had already been submitted.
He said there are also some airport projects that are already ongoing like the Sangley Airport which I now 72 percent complete; the Ninoy Aquino International Airport 2 (NAIA 2) Rehabilitation which include the expansion of the arrival baggage hall and departure check-in area; and the Clark Airport Expansion where the construction of the new passenger terminal building started in 2018 is now 74.58 percent completed.
P4 BILLION LUMP SUM
Lacson pushed for the removal of a P4-billion “lump sum” listed as ‘Other Financial Assistance to LGUs’ and handled by the DBM, noting there is no list of LGUs that will benefit from the amount.
“Anong gagawin natin sa P4B? (What will we do with the P4b?) If we’re appropriating P4B for we don’t know what… So kung hindi kailangan ‘yan, tanggalin natin (If they are not needed, then let us just remove them).”
Lacson said he does not want a repeat of last year where the DBM assured him it has a list of beneficiary LGUs, but actually had none – the DBM did not seek to draw up a list until July 2019. “So nadenggoy ako, Mr President (I was fooled, Mr. President),” he said.
Lacson also noted that the DILG is not aware of P2.489B in “assistance to cities.”
He recalled asking Sec. Eduardo Año, “Alam nyo ba ito? (Are you aware of this?)” and Año answered in the negative. “Kung hindi nyo alam ito di nyo maimplement ito (If you do not know this, then you will not implement it),” Lacson recalled telling Año, who replied, “Hindi nga po (Yes, we will not).”
Senate president pro tempore Ralph Recto pressed the administration to fulfill its promise of salary increase to government employees after the salaries of men in the uniform have been already raised.
“It was a promise made to them, that after the uniformed counterparts have received theirs, the one for them will follow soon. It is time to redeem this promissory note,” Recto said.
Recto said Malacañang must act fast for the increase to be included in the 2020 proposed national budget since a raise in government employees’ salaries need a separate law and not just an executive order. – With Jocelyn Montemayor