MANILA - President Rodrigo Duterte might be misinformed about allegations of the Bayanihan fund's underspending, Senator Panfilo Lacson said Sunday after the former accused him of making such claim.
"The President got his information all mixed up. I am not the Senator who claimed there was underspending under the Bayanihan fund. I’m quite sure because I don’t have the data on the matter, and I don’t speak without basis. Some other legislators did," Lacson said in a statement.
Duterte had said Lacson and Senate President Vicente Sotto III have been hitting the administration on the use of public funds.
Several senators and House members earlier called for an investigation into how the executive branch spent for COVID-19-related items, saying the government has yet to utilize about P6 billion for the pandemic.
Lacson said his speech before the Rotary Club last Friday dealt with budget underspending from 2017 to 2019 and had "nothing to do with Bayanihan."
"With that said, I cannot emphasize enough the need for the proper spending of our limited resources, regardless of whether these are from the Bayanihan or not," he said.
"Our national debt has ballooned to P11.07 trillion as of end-May. Each one of us, even those newly born, is in debt by P100,000. We must make sure taxpayers’ money will be used judiciously."
"And at the risk of sounding like a broken record, there is no room to mix business and health, especially during a time of extreme emergency like the pandemic," he added.
Lacson said he has also sent his statement to Finance Secretary Sonny Dominguez, who, he said, would forward it to Duterte.
Dominguez had denied that the national government has been underspending during the COVID-19 pandemic.
"According to the (Department of Budget and Management), we have already released P660 billion. What they are referring to as 'underspending' is P6 billion or 1 percent of the total. The Department of Budget and ourselves are going to each department to see where the P6 billion is," Dominguez said in a televised meeting with Duterte on Saturday.
"But Mr. President, this is 1% of the problem. In relation to what we have released of P660 billion, this is 1% and we are sure that it will be released. But in the meantime, we are asking each department to really spend the money,” he said.
Sotto, meantime, said the chamber would comb through utilized funds during its budget deliberation.
“Let's verify when we tackle the budget because that's what we gathered the last time last year," he said.
Lacson and Sotto have confirmed their candidacy for president and vice president, respectively, in next year's elections.
- Report from Robert Mano, ABS-CBN News