Ping: Higher infra budgets okayed under Velasco

    Senator Panfilo Lacson. (Photo handout)

    THE proposed infrastructure appropriations for the 2021 for a number of congressional districts increased after the House of Representatives changed its leadership last month, Sen. Panfilo “Ping” Lacson said yesterday as he scored the supposed unequal distribution of infrastructure allocations after Rep. Lord Allan Velasco took over the House leadership in October.

    Velasco (Photo from Office of the President)

    In an interview with dzBB on Sunday, Lacson said he noticed the big changes in infra allocations when he compared the National Expenditure Program (NEP), as prepared by Malacañang against the General Appropriations Bill (GAB) which was approved by the House before Congress went on Halloween break in October.

    “When the House changed leadership, we noticed that in the NEP one district had [an infra allocation of] P9 billion. Maybe that district was one of the favored ones. When the GAB came out under the new leadership, the appropriation increased to P15 billion. ere were also districts which had P4-5 billion but when the GAB came out, their allocations increased by another P4-5 billion, P7.9 billion, P7.5 billion. We were surprised. Is this how things go?

    Isn’t it that poor districts should have bigger allocations so they can be developed? That’s the issue,” Lacson said.

    He claimed the “wind direction” changed course for congressional districts perceived to be close to the new House leadership getting a big increase in appropriations, while the budgets for other districts were even slashed.

    Lacson said it is their duty as senators during the authorization stage of the budget process to sound the alarm on these observations. He urged their counterparts in the House to also be mindful of such disparities.

    “It is not right that the (House) appropriations committee chairman (Rep. Eric Yap) will just say that ‘we have nothing to do with it. This is agency-initiated and we just copied and pasted it.’ If you look at the pattern, what Reps. (Edcel) Lagman and Yap are saying is not true that they have nothing to do with it because it was the agency which initiated it,” Lacson said.

    He said the practice of increasing or decreasing the appropriations for a congressional district defeats the infra planning done by the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH).

    Last week, Lacson said there were a number of items under the DPWH proposed budget on infra which were either overlapping projects or had double appropriations which he said was a waste of taxpayers’ money if funded.

    ACT-CIS party-list Rep. Eric Yap denied Lacson’s claim that the districts of some congressmen were given bigger allocations because of their closeness to the new speaker.

    Yap said the budget for the infrastructure projects of some districts are bigger than the others because these are “big-ticket” projects that are national in scope like in Benguet, of which Yap is the legislative caretaker.

    There is an P8 billion allocation in the province under the House-approved version of the budget for the construction of some infrastructure projects, such as a circumferential road.

    “Would I be ashamed of this? No. Who identified this? The DPWH. If this goes to the people of Benguet (what’s wrong with that?) What’s this project? Is this a ghost project? No,” Yap told GMA News in an interview.

    Yap said lawmakers should not be criticized for such allocations, especially since they are not the ones who initiated it but the DPWH central office. He said the lawmakers do not have a say in the Executive’s preparation of the NEP which is submitted to Congress annually.

    He said not even a single congressman lobbied to him for a bigger budget “because it’s not in my hands – all the powers under my watch, I give the (proposed) amendments to the agency (DPWH).”

    Yap took exception to the allusion that politics played a role in the preparation of the budget, saying that while he was with the previous leadership, he remained neutral in the speakership fight.

    “I’m still the appropriations chair. Speaker Velasco saw may neutrality and the House enjoy some degree of independence in doing the budget,” Yap said. – With Wendell Vigilia