SEN. Panfilo Lacson yesterday said he will move to realign billions of pesos in appropriations for several items in the proposed P4.1-trillion national budget to fund three landmark programs of the Duterte administration which are underfunded.
Lacson said allotted funds for the Department of Environment and Natural Resources’ National Greening Program (NGP) and a number of parked funds in the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) can be used to fund the PhilSys Act program (National ID system), the Universal Health Care (UHC), and the Universal Access to Quality Tertiary Education (or the Free College Education program).
Lacson, in an interview with radio dzMM, said funding for the National ID system can be sourced from the NGP, which he noted has been allocated more than P33 billion for the past eight years, including more than P5 billion for 2020, but “we don’t see any greens in spite of the continuous appropriation of P33B.”
“It is much better if we prioritize the National ID system, which is much more worthwhile than the National Greening Program whose output we have yet to see,” he said.
Lacson said the National ID system needs at least P5.565 billion in 2020 to cover the registration of some 14 million Filipinos and resident aliens. Economic managers, however, have merely allocated P2.4 billion under the unprogrammed funds for the undertaking, which will cover only 6.3 million Filipinos. The system aims to cover more than 100 million Filipinos over a four-year period.
The senator said that while the program has been envisioned to “expedite and ease a lot of transactions with public and private institutions (and) even in the government’s revenue collection, you can use this as a weapon,” “it could not reach its potential because of a severe funding gap.”
Lacson said the UHC and the Free College Education programs can benefit from funds allocated for “vague” infrastructure projects of the DPWH.
Lacson noted the proposed 2020 budget to fund the UHC will fund only the Department of Health’s ongoing programs, activities and projects instead of enhancing the program’s implementation.
On the other hand, the funding for the Tertiary Education Subsidy (TES) under the Free College Education program can support only 432,000 out of 1.5 million applicants, as revealed during Lacson’s interpellation of the Commission on Higher Education (CHED)’s budget.
“Such (DPWH) parked projects are usually inserted by legislators without consultation with the implementing agency – a.k.a. pork,” Lacson said.
During his interpellation of the DPWH budget, Lacson revealed several projects that were marred by poor planning.
Also, he lamented that only 20 percent of projects endorsed by the Cordillera Administrative Region’s Regional Development Council made it to the DPWH’s budget for 2020.
He said this can lead to a disconnect between the needs and priorities of the local government units and the national government.
Meanwhile, Senate President Vicente Sotto III said the Senate is on track in its schedule for the approval of the proposed 2020 national budget.
“It (General Appropriations Bill) was submitted on time. We are right on track of our timetable without sacrificing important issues being raised in the different departments,”
Sotto said, adding that senators had sufficient time and opportunity to bring up and clarify questionable provisions in the budget bill.
Sotto said plenary discussions, including the period of interpellation, individual amendments and committee amendments are expected to be completed by the last week of November.
The period of interpellation ended Wednesday night, with the approval of the proposed budget for the Department of Interior and Local Government, the last agency up for discussion. The period of individual amendments will commence on Monday.
The Senate is eyeing the approval on second and third reading of the proposed General Appropriations Bill also by next week.
“The bicameral debates will be unpredictable. We expect healthy debates among members of the bicameral panel as they thresh out and reconcile the differences in our respective versions of the measure. We hope they will remain level-headed and open-minded during the discussions,” Sotto said.
He said Congress hopes that the proposed 2020 General Appropriations Act will be enacted and signed into law before solons go on a Christmas break on December 20.