“MANGLED beyond recognition.”
This was how Sen. Panfilo “Ping” Lacson yesterday described the proposed P667.3-billion budget for 2021 of the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) as he noted substantial differences in the agency-submitted and the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) listings.
Lacson said: “The DPWH belatedly submitted their NEP (National Expenditure Program) last September 7. What we (saw) was a mangling of the entire appropriations of the agency in the total amount of P666,474,289,000 beyond recognition. Hindi na natin makilala. Ang tanong ko lang (We cannot recognize [the DPWH budget] anymore. My question is), and I just want a forthright answer, did the late submission involve intervention from some legislators or was it entirely their own doing?”
The senator said he compared the first budget proposal of the DPWH as submitted by the DBM under the NEP versus the listing that was submitted by the agency to the Senate and found huge discrepancies.
Lacson said funding for a lot of national projects were slashed, while budget for local projects were increased.
In yesterday’s budget committee discussion of the DPWH, Lacson grilled Secretary Mark Villar if this was a result of the last-minute “requests” of congressmen.
Villar replied: “The ceiling that was given to us, the deadline was (July) 17. The ceiling was given 16th (of July), the day before. I spoke with DBM requesting (for an extension), we would not be able to physically finish it in a single day. For compromise, we would submit a detailed annex that would basically give the details of the budget. That’s what happened. Basically the ceiling was given at a date very close to the actual printing which rendered us unable to give details in such a short time.”
Villar said the DPWH was only able to submit its proposed budget with detailed annexes to the DBM on August 14.
NATIONAL VS LOCAL
Lacson said a comparison of the DBM and DPWH versions showed that allocation for “Build, Build, Build” projects decreased while appropriations for local projects were increased.
He said a budget decrease in national projects and the pouring of funds for local projects runs counter with the administration’s thrust of having a national budget aimed intended for the “Reset, Rebound, and Recovery” of the country in relation to the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“As you can see on the slides, national roads and bridges nabawasan ng P11B. Ang local, P43M, P11B, P23B, lahat local roads. So what happened? May nakita kaming multipurpose buildings, ang laki ng amount nasa P67B. So I suppose dahil ang theme ng 2021 budget is Reset, Rebound, Recover, I wonder how would multipurpose buildings contribute to the Reset, Rebound, Recover theme of the national budget. Ang tanong ko, what happened?
(As you can see on the slides, national roads and bridges were decreased by P11B. Local road projects got P43M, P11B, P23B. So, what happened? We saw a proposal for building multipurpose buildings with huge budgets reaching P67 billion. The theme for the 2021 national budget is Reset, Rebound, Recover. I wonder how would multi-purpose buildings contribute to the Reset, Rebound, Recover theme of the national budget. So, my question is, what happened?),” Lacson said.
Villar said: “Numbers submitted by the DBM are indicative ceiling based on the caps.
Basically, the one we submitted was adjusted based on our priority programs. That’s the reason for the adjustment…. The ceiling was given at a date that made it difficult for us… we had to adjust again… That’s why we took our time to make sure each project was detailed. A few days is not enough time to do so.”
Lacson also noted a P21.4 billion decrease in budget for network development projects in the DBM-submitted NEP: a P8 billion decrease in the Department of Tourism’s budget for “Convergence and special support” for roads leading to tourist destinations, a P6.5 billion decrease in bridge programs, and double budget allocations for the construction of school buildings under the Department of Education, and the Motor Vehicles’ Users Charge being added to the budget of the DPWH instead of going to the National Treasury.
LUMP SUM BUDGET QUESTIONED
Senate minority leader Franklin Drilon lashed at the DPWH for its lump sum-riddled proposed allocation for next year, saying it is “most unusual” that P345.25 billion in lump sum appropriation is lodged under the agency’s central office.
“This is the first time that I see from the DPWH budget around P345 billion in lump sum appropriations. This is most unusual. This kind of budgeting does not augur well for our policy of transparency,” Drilon said.
Villar denied there were lump sum appropriations in the central office, saying that they have submitted an attachment to the NEP to itemize the vague appropriations.
Drilon, however, questioned DPWH’s action.
“I don’t recall any instance in the past when a voluminous document was submitted and was tried to pass as part of the constitutionally required expenditure program (NEP). In this case, the alleged 1,200-page addendum was belatedly submitted. While the Secretary of DWPH tried to explain the circumstances behind this, it does not change the fact that there is huge lump sum appropriation and that is never before seen in the history of the DPWH budget,” Drilon added.
He said that of the P345 billion lump sum appropriation, P201.2 billion are for road projects, P29.04 billion for bridges, P65.38 billion for flood management, and P49.63 billion for convergence and special support projects. The NEP, as submitted, did not provide any breakdown, he added.
Drilon also said that under the P201.2 billion lump sum amount for road program, P16.23 billion is allotted for road widening of primary roads, P14.48 billion for secondary roads and P6 billion for tertiary roads.
“These are huge lump sum amounts. We do not know how to deal with this. This is a challenge for the committee and the Senate to be able to scrutinize these huge lump-sum items,” Drilon stressed.
Drilon also questioned why a staggering P345.25 billion is lodged under the DPWH central office and not distributed among its regional units, which he said is equivalent to 52 percent of the total appropriation of the agency next year.
He also pointed to P49.63 billion lump sum lodged under the central office for convergence and special support program but only P16.8 billion was identified for the North Manila District Engineering Office.
Drilon asked Sen. Juan Edgardo Angara, chairman of the Senate finance committee chair, to do disaggregate any lump sum item in the budget in the spirit of transparency.
HIRING OF CHINESE WORKERS IN GOV’T PROJECTS HIT
Sen. Francis Pangilinan hit the DPWH for allowing Chinese men to work in government projects amid reports that millions of Filipinos have lost their jobs due to the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.
This was after Villar admitted during the same hearing that Chinese workers account for 30 to 45 percent of the work force in government projects.
On projects funded by Official Development Assistance, Pangilinan said the DPWH must make sure that Filipino workers are given priority over foreign manpower.
Villar clarified that the employment of foreign workers is not a condition for approval of the ODAs but there are instances foreign workers are hired but only for specialized functions.
Pangilinan also urged Villar to give preference to local raw materials or materials with high local content in government flagship projects in a bid to help local manufacturers cushion the impact of the effects of the pandemic.
“In order to help boost the industry, can we have the Secretary’s commitment to make it a policy to give preference to local raw materials or materials with high local content in our flagship projects so that our local manufacturers will be able to also rebound, given the contraction of the economy,” Pangilinan said.
Villar, for his part, expressed full support for Pangilinan’s proposal, subject to compliance of local materials to product standards.
“I agree completely that we need to help our local industries as they create local jobs. You have my assurance that we will support this cause,” Villar said.
While the preference for local products in government projects is already included in Bayanihan 2 Act and Presidential Decree 1592, Pangilinan said it would be best to include a provision emphasizing the preference for local materials and supplies in infrastructure projects in the 2021 budget.
Angara, also a staunch supporter of the “buy local” initiative through his “Tatak Pinoy” program, backed Pangilinan’s proposal.
Angara said there was a similar provision in the 2020 budget but it was subjected to a condition by the Executive that it must not limit competition, providing an opening for non-local industries.
Majority Floor Leader Juan Miguel Zubiri aired his support for the “buy local” initiative, saying it would help prop up the economy and create more employment opportunities.
“Filipino first should be our first preference, particularly in the construction industry,” said Zubiri.