MANILA - Sen. Panfilo Lacson on Friday decried the "mangling" of the P4.5-trillion 2021 national budget, saying "not even the pandemic and its crippling effects could stop the greed of some lawmakers" from prioritizing their pet projects over COVID-19-response programs.
The 2021 budgets of some departments - including the fund for the purchase of COVID-19 vaccines - were cut by at least P28.35 billion after the Congress bicameral conference committee decided to boost the Department of Public Works and Highways' (DPWH) fund, said Lacson, the lone senator who dissented to the ratification of the 2021 national budget.
"Even the leadership of the DPWH would agree na hindi nila kaya i-absorb ['yung increase]," he said in an online press conference.
(Even the leadership of the DPWH would agree that they cannot absorb that increase.)
"Kapag hindi involved 'yung DPWH sa planning, ang resulta underutilization ng budget. How could they implement something, a project na hindi naman nila plinano?" he said.
(If the DPWH is not involved in the planning, the result would be underutilization of the budget. How can they implement something, a project that they did not plan?)
The DPWH's average annual fund utilization rate is at 37 percent, according to government data presented in the Senate earlier this week.
Some lawmakers prefer to have infrastructure built in their congressional districts not only to help their constituents but also to boost their personal revenues, Lacson said, without naming particular politicians.
"We know na mayroong corruption pagdating sa pet projects ng ibang lawmakers kaya pinupuno nila ng projects nung kanilang district," he said.
(We know that there is corruption when it comes to the pet projects of some lawmakers that's why they fill their districts with these projects.)
"Hindi lang dahil gusto nila tumulong sa district pero para malaki 'yung project na ang contractor ay sila mismo o kapatid nila, kamag-anak nila," he said.
(They are not just helping their districts but also so that they or their relatives who are contractors can get big projects.)
Some politicians usually use the revenue they generate from these construction projects to boost their campaign kitties for an upcoming election, he said.
"As we all know, May of 2022 is elections. We can just speculate na preparation ito kaya nag-realign ng ganitong kalalaki ang congressmen," he said.
(We can just speculate that congressmen are preparing for the 2022 elections that's why they realigned this huge sum.)
Among the projects that had to be sacrificed in favor of construction projects in several legislative districts are the Department of Information and Communications Technology's (DICT) National Broadband Program.
The DICT initially asked for P18 billion to lay down broadband cables from Aparri to Jolo and from Palawan to Samar so that government agencies would no longer have to pay for internet services from private telcos.
Congress initially agreed to give the DICT P5.9 billion next year, but after the bicameral conference committee deliberations, the agency would now only have less than P2 billion.
"This is important dahil may pandemic tayo, lahat ng kilos na ginagawa natin ay online," Lacson said.
(This is important because we have a pandemic so all our transactions and activities are online.)
"Kung maro-roll out 'yung national broadband, free WiFi, ang laki ng matitipid ng government," he said.
(If the national broadband, free WiFi will be rolled out next year, the government could save a lot.)
Government savings would be at least P387 million in the first year and up to P34 billion in the next 5 years should the National Broadband program be implemented, the senator said.
"Hindi ako sang-ayon sa sense of priorities," he said.
(I do not agree with the sense of priorities.)
Lacson said he plans to formally write to Malacañang to offer help in identifying "unreasonable reductions" and realignments under the 2021 spending bill.
Under the law, the President may veto insertions made by lawmakers in the budget.
But the President is not allowed to realign the fund to other projects so some important COVID-19 response programs that suffered a budget cut, thanks to the "capriciousness" and "whims" of politicians, is already a "lost cause," Lacson said.