MANILA— Sen. Panfilo Lacson on Wednesday questioned the Department of Public Works and Highways' (DPWH) P67-billion allocation for the construction of multi-purpose buildings next year, when the government is still expected to prioritize projects that would help the country recover from the economic impact of COVID-19.
The executive branch earlier said that the theme of the 2021 budget is to "reset, rebound, and recover," Lacson said during the Senate hearing on the proposed DPWH budget.
"Hindi ko makita how it would contribute to 'reset, rebound and recover,'" he said.
(I cannot see how it would contribute to "reset, rebound and recover.")
The DPWH is asking for a P667.32-billion budget in 2021, one of the biggest among executive departments, as the government seeks to resume its massive infrastructure program to generate jobs during the global pandemic.
DPWH Secretary Mark Villar said that the agency's allocations and actions were "based on the analysis of operations."
"We received many requests from various sectors for these buildings," Villar said.
"There is a need to service them somehow so we do take it into account... We wanted to do pump priming in the countryside in communities that are hard to reach," he said.
Lacson also questioned why P8 billion was removed for the construction of roads leading to tourism destinations.
"Ang hardest-hit 'yung tourism sector. Bakit binawasan pa ng P8 billion?" he asked.
(Tourism is the hardest-hit sector. Why did you remove P8 billion from it?)
"It doesnt make sense na 'yung tourism tinamaan ng COVID, 'yun pa 'yung binawasan natin (that tourism was hit by COVID and yet they got a budget cut)," he said.
The DPWH has already allocated P104 billion for the construction of tourism-related roads from 2016 to 2020, Villar said.
"We have to see that there are also other priorities that we have to accommodate," the DPWH chief said.
"Tourism, overall, received a big boost... P15 billion in 2021 we feel is a significant amount and substantial," he said.
But Lacson noted that while local projects received a P52.84-billion increase, funds for national roads and bridges were cut by more than P11 billion.
"What we see is a mangling of the entire appropriations in the agency," Lacson said.
"In general, ang nakita naming lumobo ay 'yung mga local projects at 'yung malalaking nabawas is 'yung national projects," he said.
(In general, what we see is that funds for local projects ballooned while there are major cuts for national projects.)
Each community in the country "has their own needs" and DPWH allocations are "based" on these "requests," Villar said.
The senator told the DPWH Secretary that some projects - such as the construction or repair of school buildings - should be removed from his agency's budget since it is already included in the funding of other departments.
"Para 'di na lumobo budget ninyo, ilagay na lang sa DepEd ang naka-lodge sa DPWH, kayo rin naman mag-implement," Lacson said.
(So your budget won't balloon, let's put in DepEd what is lodged in the DPWH, you're the ones who will implement anyway.)
"It becomes confusing there’s a budget lodged with DPWH and another item, the same program na nasa DepEd naman (already with DepEd)," he said.
Villar agreed with Lacson's "very sensible proposal."
"We can make the necessary adjustments," he said.