Lacson Pushes P1.16-B Realignment of ARMM Budget to Social Services, Overdue Pension Payments

After getting a glimpse of alleged abuses and corruption by some members of the Ampatuan clan in Maguindanao, Senator Panfilo M. Lacson pushed Friday to re-channel some P1.16 billion from the budget of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) for 2010. 

Lacson proposed that P1 billion for ARMM infrastructure projects and P160 million in special purpose funds of the ARMM governor be redirected to other items in the budget.

“Under the special provisions of ARMM’s proposed budget, (the) appropriation of infrastructure projects (can) only be released and utilized pursuant to enactment of a Public Works Act by the regional assembly. Since the ARMM legislative assembly has not enacted a Public Works Act and there is no listing of projects and construction to be funded by P1 billion as proposed, then we might as well disburse the P1 billion, part of which should be given to the DSWD,” Lacson said at the budget hearing for the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD).

“We might as well distribute the amount to different agencies in the national government,” he added.

Sen. Miriam Santiago, who was sponsoring the DSWD’s budget for 2010, said she “completely agreed” with the proposal to re-channel part of ARMM’s budget if the ARMM could not implement its projects. “Those previous budgetary appropriations should be disbursed for other purposes that we know will actually be implemented,” she said.

Lacson recommended that the amount go to priority projects of the Department of Social Welfare and Development, and to fund the overdue pensions of retired policemen and firefighters.

In proposing funds for the pension of retired policemen and firefighters, Lacson had lamented some retired firefighters had already died waiting in vain for their much-needed pensions up to now. In late 2004, some 650 retired firefighters sought Lacson’s help in getting benefits and pensions that have been denied them due to a perennial lack of funds.

“Since what we witnessed in Maguindanao, we might as well slash the special purpose fund intended for the Office of the Governor. Please consider this. The national government is subsidizing something like 98% of budget of ARMM,” he said.

Lacson said that while ARMM allocated 55% of its budget to education, the COA report still showed as many as three pupils are sharing one seat. “So nothing much is really spent for education despite their being priority in ARMM,” he said.