MANILA -- A lawmaker on Thursday flagged the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) for allegedly using P10.3 billion in contingent funds to build swmming pools and a "batcave."
During the House Appropriation Committee's hearing on the DPWH's proposed 2022 budget, Bayan Muna Rep. Ferdinand Gaite asked, "Ano yung mga proyekto na pinaggamitan? Because according to our former Cong. Chair Neri Colmenares of Bayan Muna based on the listings of the projects, apparently there were sports facilities, swimming pools, cruise sport, convention center, museum, and I don't know what is a batcave, were the products of the P10 billion."
DPWH Secretary Mark Villar said they will send Congress a list of the projects paid for by the contingency fund.
"If these are true then we do not see the urgency for such projects. We were discussing with Cong. Gatchalian, we were talking about quarantine centers…these amounts used for P10.3 billion raises many questions," Gaite said.
He pointed out that legally, the contingent fund cannot be used for these projects.
"It outlines saan lang ito pwede gamitin, legal obligation of the government arising from final and executory decisions, requirements of newly created offices, deficiencies in the appropriations for local and external travels of the President of the Philippines."
Gaite said this may be a red flag for pork barrel.
”Nakakabahala. Right now this mysterious funds, including the mysterious entries in the SARo, gives rise to the suspicion that again this is plain and simple pork barrel funds.
"Parang washing machine eh, parang budget laundering. May funds na 'di madetermine specifically saan nanggaling?"
"Bakit ginamit sa infrastructure, when the title of the item is contingent find? And there are certain items and only certain items it can be used for expenditures, yet we see items such as swimming pools, cruise sports, batcave whatever that is. Tingin po namin this is unacceptable," the lawmaker stressed.
Villar noted the contingency fund is not a fund under the DPWH.
"The DPWH does not have a contingency fund. It was sourced. The downloading was sourced from the contingency fund. The contingency fund is not with the DPWH."
"It is a fund that is within the Office of the President. These are funds are downloaded to us, they can be downloaded from other departments…it’s not a fund within our department," he said.
Villar also said that Gaite's question is not for them to answer.
"DPWH is not a funding agency. We declare savings as per the (General Appropriations Act) and we do not control how the funding is used. We declare savings and the projects that are downloaded to us, we implement it," he said.
DPWH's budget briefing lasted under 2 hours, uncharacteristic of previous budget briefings for the department, which would stretch for hours as solons used the briefings to appeal for or follow up projects in their districts.
Some lawmakers also praised Villar and expressed support for a possible increase in the DPWH budget.
The DPWH is asking for P685.237 billion in 2022. Of this, P216,064 billion will go to funding a national road system, while P109.792 billion will be allotted for flood control.
By region, the National Capital Region gets P49.98 billion or 51 percent of the DPWH budget.