MANILA--Senators on Wednesday offered conflicting opinions on whether the chamber should back the House of Representatives' bid to grant President Rodrigo Duterte emergency powers to hasten the government's ambitious infrastructure program that was hampered by red tape.
House Ways and Means Committee chair Joey Salceda earlier said he would file the bill at the Batasan to enable the administration to remove "roadblocks," such as right of way issues.
Sen. Panfilo Lacson agreed with the Albay representative, saying granting emergency powers to the chief executive would "jumpstart" the "big-ticket" projects that were stuck in the pipelines of the Department of Transportation (DOTr) and the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH).
"If we grant the president emergency powers then probably it will expedite the process para matuloy na 'yung mga naka-hold, 'yung mga big ticket," he said.
Lacson was among the senators who slammed the DOTr and the DPWH during budget deliberations after a Commission on Audit (COA) report showed that the two agencies at the forefront of the government's P9.2-trillion infrastructure push spent less than half of their budget allotments last year.
The DOTr spent 23.8 percent of its 2018 funds, while the DPWH disbursed 39.7 percent of its budget last year, according to the COA report.
"I will support that para matuloy 'yung Build, Build, Build, para maging mas efficient 'yung implementation," Lacson said.
"Malaking issue kasi 'yung how can you even start a project kung may mga issue ng right of way?"
Sen. Richard Gordon said right of way issues could be solved even without giving the President emergency powers.
"Right of way issue always gets in the way all the time . . . [but] If you really want to do it, you can do it," Gordon told ABS-CBN News.
"If the President tells all local governments, 'You follow this proposal,' there is really no need for anything. They will follow," he said, citing how Metro Manila mayors cleared thoroughfares of obstructions after Duterte issued a formal order.
Reviewing the government procurement system would be a better option to hasten the Build, Build, Build program, Gordon said.
"It is procurement that causes a lot of money. We try to be so careful, [but] I'd rather have a very fast procurement system with a very strict anti-corruption measure," he said.
Sen. Bong Go, a decades-long aide of Duterte, said he would not advise the President to approve of Salceda's emergency powers bill.
" 'Wag na lang. Too late na," Go told ABS-CBN News in a separate interview.
"Ibinigay dapat nu'ng July 2016 nu'ng kakaupo lang ni Pangulong Duterte . . . Kung gusto mo talagang tulungan ang ating Pangulo, ibigay mo nu'ng unang pag-upo pa lang niya with enough time na 6 years para ayusin 'yung problema," he said.
Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon said he would wait for DPWH and DOTr officials to explain why only 9 out of 75 priority projects under the Build, Build, Build program has started.
"There has to be a program to accelerate disbursement," he said.
"They are in the best position to come up with action."
Build, Build, Build is the Duterte administration's hallmark program that promised to usher in the Philippines' “golden age of infrastructure." The series of massive projects also hoped to spur the country's economic growth by providing jobs and boosting spending, especially in the construction sector.