AN­GRY? GO CHILL IN THIS ROOM

Philippine Daily Inquirer - - FRONT PAGE -

or knowl­edge of the in­ser­tions made by the De­part­ment of Bud­get and Man­age­ment (DBM).

“Dur­ing the break this rep­re­sen­ta­tion and spon­sor agreed to delete the P75 bil­lion at the proper time … dur­ing the pe­riod of amend­ments,” Lac­son said.

Sen. Loren Le­garda, chair of the Se­nate fi­nance com­mit­tee, con­firmed Lac­son’s state­ment, say­ing: “I agree.”

Who are the plan­ners?

The de­ci­sion came after DPWH of­fi­cials, along with Le­garda, who was de­fend­ing the agency’s bud­get on the ple­nary floor, were stumped by Lac­son’s ques­tion about the plan­ners of the projects to be funded from the P75 bil­lion.

The Se­nate re­sumed de­bate on the P3.8-tril­lion pro­posed bud­get for 2019 on Mon­day.

The new bud­get did not clear Con­gress in De­cem­ber last year be­cause of con­tro­versy over al­leged pork al­lo­ca­tions.

The gov­ern­ment is op­er­at­ing on the 2018 reen­acted bud­get.

Lac­son had wanted to know who did the plan­ning for the projects added to the DPWH bud­get by the DBM in the orig­i­nal bud­get pro­posal sub­mit­ted to Con­gress.

“How can I an­swer that, Ping? Even they can’t an­swer that,” Le­garda said. This was fol­lowed by a sus­pen­sion that lasted about an hour.

Dio­kno ac­cused of ‘in­ser­tion’

The is­sue came up when Lac­son opened his ques­tion­ing on House Ma­jor­ity Leader Rolando An­daya Jr.’s ac­cu­sa­tion that Bud­get Sec­re­tary Ben­jamin Dio­kno or­ches­trated the “in­ser­tion” of P75 bil­lion into the pro­posed DPWH bud­get.

An­daya al­leged that Dio­kno added huge amounts for in­fra­struc­ture projects in the bud­get of the DPWH without its knowl­edge.

He said the ad­di­tional fund­ing in­cluded al­lo­ca­tions for projects in Casig­u­ran, Sor­so­gon prov­ince, where Dio­kno’s in-laws were in­cum­bent of­fi­cials.

DPWH records, how­ever, showed that not a sin­gle centa- vo of the sup­posed P75-bil­lion ad­di­tional bud­get was al­lot­ted to Casig­u­ran, con­tra­dict­ing An­daya’s in­for­ma­tion.

The doc­u­ments showed that 25 leg­isla­tive districts would re­ceive more than the P705 mil­lion in in­fra­struc­ture projects al­lot­ted for the first con­gres­sional dis­trict of Sor­so­gon, which in­cludes Casig­u­ran.

Among the re­cip­i­ents of flood con­trol and road projects for 2019 are the lone dis­trict of Romblon (P4.74 bil­lion), Abra (P4.1 bil­lion), sec­ond dis­trict of Al­bay (P3.7 bil­lion), first dis­trict of Sa­mar (P3.3 bil­lion), first dis­trict of Davao del Norte (P2.9 bil­lion), first dis­trict of Agu­san del Norte (P2.87 bil­lion), sec­ond dis­trict of Palawan (P1.76 bil­lion) and third dis­trict of Tar­lac (P1.51 bil­lion).

Pork al­lo­ca­tions

The doc­u­ments formed part of the Na­tional Ex­pen­di­ture Pro­gram (NEP) sub­mit­ted by the DBM to Con­gress as the draft bud­get for 2019.

An­daya di­vulged sup­posed ir­reg­u­lar­i­ties in the al­lot­ment of funds for flood mit­i­ga­tion projects after Lac­son claimed that bil­lions of pe­sos in pork had been al­lo­cated to the leg­isla­tive districts of An­daya and Speaker Glo­ria Ma­ca­pa­gal-Ar­royo.

Dio­kno strongly re­jected An­daya’s claims, dis­miss­ing them as “il­lu­sory.”

Le­garda, in de­fend­ing the DPWH bud­get, re­peat­edly con­firmed that Vil­lar learned about the P75 bil­lion only after he had re­ceived a copy of the NEP.

She said the DPWH ini­tially re­quested a bud­get ceil­ing of P651 bil­lion from the DBM, sim­i­lar to its 2018 bud­get.

But the DBM ap­proved only P480 bil­lion, rea­son­ing that this year’s bud­get was cash-based.

But the DPWH learned later that the DBM sub­mit­ted to Con­gress a bud­get of P555 bil­lion for the DPWH un­der the NEP.

“I am told that upon sub­mis­sion of the NEP, that is when Sec­re­tary Vil­lar re­al­ized or saw the P75 bil­lion, [which was added to the] P480 bil­lion,” Le­garda said.

“Is that stan­dard prac­tice?” Lac­son asked.

Part of bud­getary process

Le­garda echoed Dio­kno’s ear­lier an­swer to An­daya’s ac­cu­sa­tions: “It’s part of bud­getary process. The bud­get em­anates from the agen­cies, and the DBM may add to or sub­tract from the bud­gets for the agen­cies.”

Mi­nor­ity Leader Franklin Drilon chimed in, say­ing he won­dered what could have trig­gered the DBM’s de­ci­sion to add a large amount to the DPWH bud­get.

Le­garda an­swered: “There was fis­cal space. There were more projects that could be im­ple­mented. That’s part of bud­getary process.”

But Drilon ob­jected: “I take ex­cep­tion to [you say­ing it’s] part of bud­getary process … Sud­denly there was light that made them re­al­ize there was P75 bil­lion?”

Se­nate Pres­i­dent Pro Tem­pore Ralph Recto joined the de­bate by point­ing out that the NEP was called the Pres­i­dent’s bud­get pre­cisely be­cause it was the pre­rog­a­tive of the Pres­i­dent, whose al­ter-ego was the DBM chief, to pre­pare the spend­ing bill as he saw fit.

But Drilon re­jected the ar­gu­ment, say­ing the DBM’s acts in­di­cated ar­bi­trari­ness and abuse of dis­cre­tion.

Sen. Sher­win Gatchalian asked Le­garda: “Re­gard­ing the P75 bil­lion, who iden­ti­fied the projects? How can they sub­mit the NEP if there was no iden­ti­fi­ca­tion?”

Lac­son butted in: “The big­ger con­cern is how do they im­ple­ment? The DPWH did not know P75 bil­lion was added.”

“It is in the NEP. It is listed, it’s not a lump sum, it’s item­ized, these are line item projects,” Le­garda said.

Lac­son shot back: “Who planned the projects that did not come from them (DPWH)?”

Mark Vil­lar

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