Ping slams gov’t borrowing habit

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    Senator Ping Lacson wants to extend the Bayanihan Act. (Photo Senate of the Philippines)

    SEN. Panfilo “Ping” Lacson is on a roll.

    Yesterday, Lacson blasted the government’s compulsion to borrow money for its numerous undertakings, “but not always with the corresponding results.”

    “The sad reality is our national government doesn’t get tired of borrowing,” he said, adding that while borrowing may be necessary for the economy, the government has yet to show results of the trillions of pesos it has loaned over the years.

    “When I first became a senator in 2001, our national government’s outstanding debt was P2.88 trillion. Over the Arroyo, Aquino and Duterte administrations, it has ballooned to P10.027 trillion as of October this year, from P8.2 trillion at end-2019,” Lacson said in a radio interview.

    “Just for the past 11 to 12 months under the Duterte administration, the borrowing pace accelerated at a record speed,” he said, adding he got his figures from the National Treasury website.

    Citing Washington as a point of comparison, the senator said that while the United States has borrowed $27 trillion, their infrastructure development and social services are being adequately provided.

    “In our case, we have expressways and skyways but they are provided and maintained by the private sector. Tayo, utang ng utang, toll naman ng toll (We just keep on borrowing, and these just keep on piling). Have we seen infrastructure and development to improve the quality of life of Filipinos?” he asked.

    On Monday, Lacson scored the additional P28 billion budget that the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) got in the final version of the money measure, which he said was approved in the bicameral conference committee level because of the “haggling” for pet projects of lawmakers.

    Lacson said the extra funding was apparently meant to accommodate select lawmakers’ requests for inclusion of their “pet projects” in the list of government infrastructure projects.

    “It’s personal interest first, and public service next, if at all. That’s the only explanation I can derive from what came out of the bicameral report,” Lacson has said.

    Lacson said it is “hard to accept the Palace spokesperson’s statement that we will look for funds to acquire vaccines” again.

    Senate president pro tempore Ralph Recto said government will only spend around one percent of the P4.506-trillion proposed national budget on the health sector amid the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic.

    In an interview with ANC, Recto said the pandemic has bared the weakness of the country’s health system, as he added that there is an imbalance when so much was poured for infrastructure projects under the Department of Public Works and Highways.

    Under the National Expenditure Program, the DPWH was appropriated P667.3 billion but was increased to P694.8 billion under the bicameral conference committee report, whereas the Department of Health and its attached agencies were appropriated P203.1 billion under the NEP, and later increased to P287.4 billion in the bicam report.

    “We’re only spending one percent of health budget for health infra. We saw that our health infra had a stress test and we really lack health infrastructures. So, I don’t mind spending P700 billion with DPWH, but a big portion of that should have been used to spend for health. Improve our health capacity to begin with,” Recto said.

    Recto said the most important government agenda for next year should be how to address the pandemic, adding that the P82.5 billion appropriation for the purchase of COVID-19 vaccines may not be enough to inoculate 60 to 70 percent of our population to have herd immunity.

    Under the General Appropriations Bill, P2.5 billion from the DOH budget will be used to purchase COVID-19 vaccines, while P70 billion was earmarked as unprogrammed funds.

    P10 billion for the same purpose is included in the Bayanihan 2.

    Recto said that the P70 billion unprogrammed funds simply means that the government will borrow money.

    2020 GAA, BAYANIHAN 2

    The Senate yesterday passed on second and third reading the two measures certified as urgent by Malacañang to extend the validity of the Bayanihan to Recover as One Act or Bayanihan 2 and the 2020 General Appropriations Act.

    Eighteen senators voted to approve House Bills 8063 and 6656 on second and third reading in compliance with Malacañang’s request.

    The House of Representatives on Monday night similarly approved on third and final reading the bills extending the validity of the two laws.

    Lawmakers voted 179-6 with no abstentions in favor of HB 8063, which seeks to extend the effectivity of the Bayanihan 2 so that its appropriations can be spent until June 30 next year.

    Bayanihan 2, which provides for a stimulus package of P140 billion in regular appropriation and P25 billion as standby fund, is set to expire on December 19, with a huge portion of the allocation yet to be released.

    If not extended, the government will have to release the remaining funds by December 19, or else the funds will revert to the Bureau of Treasury. – With Wendell Vigilia