MANILA - Sen. Panfilo Lacson on Thursday flagged around P2.3-billion worth of alleged double appropriations and vague items in the Department of Public Works and Highways' (DPWH) 2020 budget proposal, saying the "very general" projects could either worsen government underspending or be pocketed by corrupt officials.
Lacson pointed out that at least 10 massive projects in the DPWH spending plan either had incomplete descriptions, were redundant, or were not supposed to be part of the agency's capital outlay expenditures.
Among these projects are:
- Kennon Road (P507 million)
- Jose Abad Santos Avenue (P156.6 million)
- Manila North Road (P150 million)
- Various roads in Quezon City (P276.71 million)
- Various roads in Taguig City (P315 million)
- Various roads in Ilocos Norte (P43.79 million)
- Concreting of roads in Pangasinan (P104 million)
- Batan Island Circumferential Road in Albay (P28.87 million)
- Desilting, declogging, dredging (P109.28 million)
- Tulay ng Pangulo para sa Kaunlarang Pang-Agraryo (P603.37 million)
- "Requesting for improvement" of a road in Cagayan (P15 million)
Last year, alleged insertions in the DPWH budget delayed deliberations on the 2019 budget, prompting government to work on a reenacted 2018 budget until this April.
"May double appropriation kasi exactly the same project description pero magkahiwalay ang amount. Ang iba may overlapping, ang iba, maraming issues," Lacson told reporters on the sidelines of budget deliberations.
(There are double appropriations because [some items have] the same project description but separate amounts. Others are overlapping, there are many issues.)
The redundant items may have been "deliberately" squeezed into the spending bill, he said.
He noted one vague description for a P500-million appropriation and a P500,000 allocation to build a bridge.
The faulty items in the proposed DPWH budget was "on the account of poor planning," he said, but added that the agency should not be blamed for submitting a flawed list.
"'Di nako-consult ang agency when some legislators submit their pet projects," he said.
(The agency is not consulted when some legislators submit their pet projects.)
Other lawmakers take advantage of congressional hearings to put "pressure" on agency officials and ensure that their insertions are lodged in the budget, he said.
"I know this for a fact because I’ve been talking to some congressmen that long before the National Expenditure Program was submitted to Congress, tinatawag na nila ang (they summon the) agency heads and submit to them their pet projects," he said.
"Sometimes pinagbibigyan na lang maski 'di mai-defend ang pagpopondo sa mga proyekto. Wala na rin sila magagawa because these are requests submitted by legislators," the senator said.
(Sometimes they are granted even if the funding for the projects can't be defended. They can't do anything because these are requests submitted by legislators.)
"Mapipilitan ang agency because every budget year, 'pag may investigation, they are being summoned. So may pressure," he said.
(The agencies are forced because every budget year, when there's an investigation, they are being summoned. So there's pressure.)
Lacson refused to name particular lawmakers, saying he would rather stick to issues. But in a separate statement, he slammed House Deputy Speaker L-Ray Villafuerte for calling the "vaguely-described" Kennon Road appropriations as a "typographical error."
Villafuerte - who issued the statement in an interview on ANC's Headstart - later on corrected his claim, saying he was referring to a P15-million project in Cagayan province, and not the half-billion-peso Kennon Road proposal.
"How could he even know that [it was a typographical error]?" Lacson said, noting that the House simply adopted the budget bill and transmitted it to the Senate.
EMPOWERED LOCAL GOVERNMENTS
Barangay and local government officials usually submit their project requests during executive budget meetings, but these suggestions are seldom reflected in the spending bill, the senator said.
"Ang nangyari na lang sa national budget, kung sino ang congressmen na sabihin nating malapit sa kusina o magaling bumalimbing, 'yan ang nakakakuha ng malaking proyekto na walang coordination o consultation sa LGUs o districts they serve," he said.
(What happens to the national budget, whichever congressman is close to the kitchen or is good at turning coats, that's the one who gets big projects without coordination or consultation with the LGUs or districts they serve.)
Lacson said the system could only be overhauled if lawmakers would agree to subject their proposed projects during local budget deliberations to ensure that these are aligned with community needs.
"'Di naman lulusot sa Congress kasi ayaw nila ma-empower ang LGUs kasi mababawasan ang kanilang poder pagdating sa budget," he said.
(It won't pass through Congress because they don't want to empower LGUs because that would diminish their say when it comes to the budget.)
"We really have to correct that. It is a policy issue we need to improve on," he said.