MANILA— Sen. Panfilo Lacson on Wednesday said he would "raise hell" when the Senate begins its budget debates to question why the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) has been withholding funding for projects identified by lawmakers this year.
The funding for Congressional insertions in the 2020 budget have been marked as "for later release," thereby "diminishing if not rendering irrelevant" lawmakers' constitutional right in crafting the national budget, Lacson said in an online press conference.
"I'm going to raise hell bakit ganun ang ginagawa ng DBM," he said.
"Napaka-deliberate kasi na basta congressional initiatives, for later release na," he said.
"Kung lahat na lang ng congressional insertions - regardless kung individual or institutional - tatanggalin, rendered inutile 'yung role ng Congress sa budget process."
(I am going to raise hell why DBM is doing that. It's so deliberate that funds for congressional initiatives are marked for later release. If all congressional insertions, regardless if individual or institutional, are removed, that renders inutile the role of Congress in the budget process.)
Lacson noted that under the 2020 appropriations, he moved to increase the Department of Information and Communications Technologies' budget by P11 billion to help the country's push for better connectivity, but the DBM never released the funding.
The Universal Health Care program was also supposed to have a P251-billion budget this year, but the DBM only disbursed P203-billion for the government program, the senator said.
"I don't care if for later release nila 'yung congressional initiative na obviously hindi tama sa direction ng government o kung hindi kaya ng agency," he said.
"[Pero] wala nang distinction whether individual amendments or institutional amendments," he said.
(I don't care if they mark for later release congressional initiatives that obviously are not aligned with the direction of the government or can't be done by the agency. But there is no distinction whether they are individual amendments or institutional amendments.)
Earlier this year, President Rodrigo Duterte approved the 2020 budget with a "conditional implementation."
The policy "addresses some issues that need to be clarified so, in effect, it prevents the release of funds to be questionable," said Ryan Lita, director for legal service of the DBM.
Not all congressional insertions are meant to benefit lawmakers, as some amendments to the budget were made due to the requests of executive agencies, the senator said.
"Parang as long as na makita nila na congressional initiatives, automatic for later release... Napaka discriminatory at saka masyadong arbitrary," he said.
"Kung mayroon silang konting tiyaga, they should have asked the agencies... Hindi 'yung hindi na nagtanong.. automatic for later release pa," he said.
(As long as they see that they are congressional initiatives, they mark for later release automatically... It's discriminatory and too arbitrary. If they exercise some diligence, they should have asked the agencies and not just skip asking and mark automatically for later release.)
The DBM is "abusing" a "practice that is allowed," Lacson said.
"Wala ngang definition kung kailan ang later... Ang intention nun ay 'wag na i-release," he said.
(There's no definition of what later means. The intention is for the funds to no longer be released.)
"I want to hear the explanation of DBM in this regard," he said.
The Senate is expected to tackle the 2021 budget in plenary on November 10.