Labag sa Constitution? Questioning Lump Sums, Re-Appropriations in the 2021 Proposed Budget

At the hearing on the proposed 2021 budget, Sen. Lacson raised questions on the following issues:
* Ability of DPWH, DoTr to accomplish infrastructure programs to rebound from pandemic
* P396B in lump sums in the DPWH’s budget – lodged in the central office
* Re-appropriations involving 2,933 items worth P73.5B in the proposed budget
* P30B not yet allocated for COVID-19 response

MORE DETAILS…

* DPWH, DoTr UNDERSPENDING:

Sen. Lacson noted the DPWH and DoTr, the two agencies primarily tasked to implement the Build, Build, Build program to achieve the RRR strategy (Reset, Rebound, Recover), “are not encouraging enough” considering the history of underspending of both agencies.

He noted P786B, or 71% of the P101.7T infra budget for 2021, will go to the two agencies. But in 2019, DPWH ranked first in underspending with P83.07B and DoTr ranked 4th with P21.65B. “With the performances of the two BBB frontline departments as shown, will the two agencies be able to deliver in 2021?

Sen. Lacson also noted that while construction works resumed in May, efficiency remains low due to the protocol and restrictions being implemented because of the pandemic. “In your planning and projections, have you considered efficiency of construction in relation to the infra strategy, yung BBB, under the present pandemic? Kasi if things remain constant in 2021, meaning without a vaccine vs COVID19, how do we foresee the efficacy of the rebound strategy? These are policy questions Mr Secretary.”

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* ‘UNCONSTITUTIONAL’ RE-APPROPRIATIONS, LUMP SUMS:

Sen. Lacson noted an initial scrutiny of the 2021 NEP and a review of the 2020 GAA found at least 2,933 items amounting to P73.5B in re-appropriations: “PAPs already appropriated under the 2020 GAA are again subject of appropriations under the 2021 NEP. There’s a pattern here.”

He cited one item in the 2020 GAA worth P6.491M being mentioned again in the 2021 NEP with a P649K proposed budget. Another item in the 2020 budget had a P7M budget and a P700K appropriation in the 2021 NEP. “Now why is this so and how did this happen?”

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Primarily because of the constitutional issues involved, I don’t think we should allow this when we finally pass the budget measure before yearend.”

“There goes our problem. We’ll be treading dangerous grounds insofar as constitutional challenge is concerned. Sa SC ruling hindi pupuwede kung walang discontinuance, isa-savings mo ang portion. It’s either you realign the whole item as funded but you cannot pull out an increment.”

“Ang ‘savings’ under GAA of 2020, malinaw po completion, final discontinuance or abandonment of a program. So kung walang na-cancel na project, walang na-discontinue or na-abandon, wala tayong savings na pwede i-realign. And we counted. As we speak we compiled the total aggregate amount of P469B corresponding to reappropriated PAPs all under the DPWH, of which lump sum items lodged in the Central Office of DPWH amounting to P396B. Yan they would easily fall under the SC in Belgica vs ES ruled as lump sum appropriations and therefore patently illegal.”

“So tingnan nyo ang description, di yan itemized. And kung isasama natin ang P73.5B plus P396B, ang lahat nito is P469B.”

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Sen. Lacson intends to propose an amendment to excise these. “I will propose an amendment to excise from the Senate version of the GAB the items that are already appropriated under the 2020 GAA but are being proposed to be appropriated again under the 2021 NEP.”

And I would urge the DPWH through the DBM to submit to us a revised list of PAPs devoid of lump sums or reappropriated items before some enterprising people start realigning PAPs worth P396B even P469B if we include the P73.5B in incremental appropriations. Having said that, we will provide you with the details. Kayo na mag-initiate, baguhin, i-revise nyo ito in the form of errata or I would suggest submit sa chairman namin Sen Angara ang revised list ninyo para di tayo magkaproblema pagdating ng araw.” DBM Sec. Avisado replied they will “coordinate with DPWH Sec. Villar on this matter and submit what is necessary in compliance and accordance with your observations.”

Hindi ako abogado pero ang Bayanihan to Heal as One Act, hindi pwedeng lumampas sa Constitution. Sec 4B, notwithstanding any law to the contrary, direct the discontinuance of appropriated programs, we should all be compliant. All laws we pass should be compliant with the provisions of the Constitution. Subservient tayo sa Sec 20 Par 5 na ang meaning ng savings, especially the SC ruled there is existing jurisprudence. Congress gave the President the power to realign items; still we should remain compliant with the provision of the Constitution,” Sen. Lacson stressed.

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* UNALLOCATED FUNDS:

Sen. Lacson also questioned where P30B in allotments went as P389.057B had been released to implementing agencies, but the actual allocation was only P359B.

So there’s 30B na di ginagastos ng agencies. Dahil kapos ang response natin sa COVID, why is there still P30B na hindi obligated o nagastos ng mga agencies in spite of that amount being released to them already? And we want to find out ang details ng P30B. Saan yan at sino nag-fail to release or spend that amount?”

Because P30B is a rather huge amount in assistance to our kababayans to cope with COVID pandemic.”

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