MANILA - The Senate has deleted some P75 billion from the budget of the Department of Public Works and Highways allegedly inserted into the agency's funding for 2019.
Senators adopted the motion raised by Sen. Panfilo Lacson on Monday afternoon, removing the allocation in their version and allowing it to be discussed further in the bicameral meeting.
Lawmakers failed to approve the P3.7-trillion budget for 2019 before their Christmas break due to supposed insertions by the Department of Budget and Management and the presence of pork barrel funds. The government is currently running on a reenacted appropriation plan.
Members of the House of Representatives invited Budget Secretary Benjamin Diokno for a question hour after allegations that he favored his in-laws in selecting contractors for some projects in the Bicol region. The Cabinet official slammed the accusation as "illusory."
The DPWH last year proposed a P651-billion budget to the Development and Budget Coordination Committee, but the DBM replied with a “budget ceiling” of P480 billion for the agency.
In the National Expenditure Program, its allocation went up to P555 billion, bearing an additional P75 billion.
Lacson during Monday's session questioned Senator Loren Legarda, chairperson of the Committee on Finance, what the additional P75 billion was for.
Legarda said DPWH Secretary Mark Villar was only made aware of the increased agency budget after the question hour at the House of Representatives.
She said the agency submitted a P651 billion proposed 2019 budget, but the DBM turned this down because of the government's “cash-based budgeting.”
Legarda said projects to be covered by the P75-billion fund are already existing, although she failed to identify them one by one.
“How do you submit a proposed P650-billion without a list..There must be a basis for the figure,” Lacson said.
“According to Sec Villar, he’s basing it on the previous budget,” Legarda replied.
Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon also questioned the same amount included in the DPWH's budget.
“If the DBM says, DPWH your ceiling is P480-billion suddenly when the NEP was submitted, P75 billion was added. If DBM said P480 billion is your budget ceiling, what dawned on them to add P75 billion?” he asked Legarda.
“Because there was fiscal space and second, there were more projects that can be implemented. That’s the budgetary process,” she replied.
“Suddenly there was a light from somewhere that there is P75 billion… It’s illogical what you’re saying to us,” Drilon remarked.
Senator Richard Gordon also joined the fray and shared his stand similar to Lacson and Drilon’s points.
It was in the middle of the heated discussion when a frowning Senator Cynthia Villar, mother of Secretary Mark Villar, stood up and manifested that she be recognized so she can answer all the questions of her colleagues on behalf of Legarda.
Senate President Vicente Sotto III, who was presiding the session, did not acknowledge Villar’s motion.
Senator Sherwin Gatchalian also stood up and asked Legarda what projects were supposed to have been covered by the P75 billion.
Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph Recto later on took the defense for Legarda asked questions with answers later on pointing to Budget Secretary Diokno as the responsible person in the said allotment.
The heated debate has led to not less than 3 session suspensions with the longest running to almost an hour.