#PINGterview: ‘Haggling’ in DPWH’s Budget for 2021?

In an interview on ANC, Sen. Lacson answered questions on:
* items in the proposed budget for 2021
* PhilHealth anomalies
* appointment of Cezar Mancao II to DICT

QUOTES and NOTES:

* 2021 BUDGET:

Describing the Proposed 2021 Budget:

“First, the theme is Reset, Rebound, Recover. The theme is anchored on Build, Build, Build. But when we scrutinized the 2021 NEP and compared it with the 2020 GAA, we have expressed so many reservations. For one, how can we assign the BBB effort primarily to 2 agencies that in so many years had topped the agencies listed as having massive underspending since 2010? So I asked these questions to the economic managers and I am not quite satisfied with their answers.”

“The DPWH ranked 1st among agencies with the biggest underspending at least in 2019, and DoTr ranked 4th.”

P113B Funding for Social Amelioration:

I don’t think it is enough. I think they are following a strategy of 3 stages, emergency strategy, recovery strategy and what they call resiliency in 2021. Emergency started in March and ended in May. Recovery is where we are right now, from June to December. Resiliency is for the 2021 budget. That’s why I asked NEDA Sec Karl Chua yesterday during our budget deliberation. Ang analogy kasi is nagpapalakas na lang, vitamin at home for the resiliency stage. Now they themselves admitted that we cannot have the vaccine until 3rd quarter of next year, which is October. So how can we assume? Because even in military tactics, a lot of the success of a mission has to do with assumptions. If we assume wrongly it could cause loss of lives. The same principle applies to our economy and the health condition of our country.”

“That (how much should be appropriated to DSWD to include added cash aid for the poor) is another issue altogether. Because they are striking a balance between the health issue and the economic sector. But again we discovered that even in the distribution of SAP, the P389B allotted by DBM to the different agencies, they only spent P359B. And I was inquiring where the P30B spending gap has occurred. Which agencies have sacrificed which sectoral beneficiaries? Kasi P30B is P30B. And since we are at a stage when we are addressing a health issue which is the pandemic, bakit nagkulang ng paggasta ang ating agencies?

“Sec. Avisado started blurting out figures as they distributed the amounts to the different agencies. That was not what I wanted. Ang gusto ko malaman nasaan ang P30B. Since P389B had already been allotted to the different agencies, meaning released to the agencies, why these agencies failed to disburse the aggregate total of P30B. kasi marami pang nagrereklamo na LGUs, barangays, I talked to them, na hindi pa umaabot sa kanila ang SAP if at all. Kung umabot man, kulang, 40%, 50%, 60%. Kung may naiwanang P30B under Bayanihan 1, bakit di nila dinisburse? I was referring to the agencies. Of course Sec Avisado does not have the wherewithal, the means, to find out. If I ask the agencies ibabalik na naman kami sa DBM.”

P30B Spending Gap:

If P389B has already been released, bakit may spending gap na P30B considering kailangan ng mga kababayan natin especially ang intended beneficiaries on health matters. Of course kasama rin ang economic issues because pantawid nila dahil sa lockdowns.”

May Haggling? On the Re-Appropriated Items in DPWH Budget:

Ang budget ng DPWH for infra, P786B. Of the P786B we found out P469B total ito ang reappropriations na tinatawag. Meaning, the items are already reflected under the 2020 GAA. And then we found out naroon na naman sa 2021 NEP. So I raised the red flag on this. And Sec Avisado was candid enough to admit there’s indeed an error and he will correct it by asking DPWH to submit to him so he can submit to Congress ang errata.”

“And P469B is too large an amount, that’s more than 50% of the budget of DPWH for infrastructure. My inside info, my source from DBM told us that ang reason for the hasty submission of erroneous appropriations for the 2021 NEP, kasi late nag-submit ang DPWH. For what reason I don’t know. We can only suspect that there was a lot of haggling that went on between DPWH and some legislators, kaya nagkahuli-huli.”

“That’s what we were told (haggling). There’s no way of validating it. But why in the world, kasi BBB doon naka-anchor ang RRR. But BBB, e bakit ang DPWH would be late in the submission of their proposed budget?

Reassigning parts of DPWH’s P469B to Other Agencies:

Not the whole amount but at least a portion of that amount should be realigned or reassigned to other agencies that would need more appropriations. Like DOST, I pointed it out, we are a nation of shoppers. PPE, import pa tayo, face mask, face shields, import. And you know we have a lot of homegrown talents good scientists, they are migrating to other countries in the world. For all we know, the items we are importing ay gawa rin ng mga Pilipino abroad. So why don’t we just harness their talents, vigorously support them by way of the national budget, so we can have our own inventions, our own creations? Sayang.”

Of course big ticket huwag natin pabayaan kasi yan ang essence ng BBB. But ang preventive maintenance of secondary roads, farm to market roads and the like, should not be considered anymore. Ito ang source ng corruption like dredging, flood control. Alam naman natin pag dredging isang ulan lang, di ma-audit ng COA yan kasi sasabihin ng contractor umulan, gumuho uli, silted ang ilog. So much has been wasted to corruption insofar as the GAA is concerned. And we see this every day. Ito nakakapagod at nakakainis na. Every time we deliberate we point out over and over again the same issues, the same matters.

DOLE Budget for Helping Small Businesses:

“That’s being addressed. MSMEs mahigit 1M ito, and out of the more than 1M MSMEs, ang mahigit 4,000 dito large corporations, they can take care of themselves. But MSMEs ito ang tinamaan. That’s being addressed by the economic managers particularly the DOF. Kaya under deliberation now ang CREATE, to assist the small enterprises. That’s being addressed by another effort by the national govt. Ang DOLE naman, labor issues ang sa kanila. Of course kawing-kawing yan. Pagka tinamaan ang enterprises may tama rin ang laborers because they are the employees.”

Budgets for DA, ‘Plant, Plant, Plant’:

Of course (increasing budget for DA). Kasi I had already pointed out P469B ibibigay mo uli kung ire-revise ang list. And they will retain the P469B for DPWH, I cannot see how they can implement or spend everything considering since 2010 nariyan sila lagi sa Top 10 ng underspenders.”

“I think the Plant, Plant, Plant program has no connection with the DA per se because pag sinabing PPP if you notice during lockdowns, lahat halos na kababayan natin nagtanim sa paso at backyard. Even condo owners nagtanim sa pasamano. So it’s not really what it is intended. I think it’s a misnomer. Pag sinabing PPP it’s not the DA, it’s addressed to the citizens of this country instead of just staying at home watching Netflix or watching whatever… Just to encourage Filipinos to plant in their own backyards probably.”

Budget for Anti-Insurgency Program for ELCAC; Calls for PCOO Official Lorraine Badoy’s Resignation:

These are distributed sa implementing agencies. May task force but they only serve as secretariat. Most of it will be implemented by the DILG, and they are being downloaded to LGUs. Ito ang pang-hold kasi consolidate and hold yan. Once a barangay is cleared, the LGUs through the DILG would need funds to consolidate and develop their areas. So the insurgents, CPPNPAs will not go back to the mountains anymore. So I’m supportive of that program of the government. We’ve been in this for 50 years na or 60 years.”

“(The P19B budget will be spent on) Development. Ito ang assistance sa rebel returnees, pang-develop sa lugar. Di ito pang-giyera. Because DND, DILG, the PNP for that matter, have their own budget to address the insurgency problem. Ang P19B ito ang sa development phase. Pag na-clear na barangays, that’s where it will come in.”

Masyadong maliit yan (to be used for the run-up to 2022 elections). Ang nakakatakot dito sa infrastructure projects kasi dito papasok ang possible haggling with Malacanang, if we assume that may sinister effort or move on the part of Malacanang to dip or poke their fingers sa 2022 elections. But next year is not yet election year. Of course tama si Sen Drilon, run-up, ito ang preparatory stage sa May 2022 elections. But I hope not because our country is facing too many problems. First sa pandemic. Di pa tayo nakakaahon. And we also collected some data, consolidated them to compare our country’s response with our ASEAN neighbors. In some aspects nariyan tayo sa middle of the pack. But cost-effectiveness-wise we’re lagging behind. Tayo pinakamaraming cases next to Singapore on a population to population ratio. Marami kaming analysis na ginawa but I had no time anymore yesterday. So I would be addressing that in plenary debates.”

“(On calls for Usec Badoy’s resignation) Resignation is always a personal decision. It is up to the person being asked to resign to resign. If he/she doesn’t want to resign that’s his/her personal decision. It’s up to Congress (HOR) if they will support the move of the Makabayan bloc in the HOR or not. If the whole HOR will throw its support to Rep Zarate and the rest of the Makabayan bloc baka may papuntahan. But if not, hanggang diyan lang yan. And we cannot sacrifice the whole budget for the retention or resignation of a govt official assigned to PCOO. Hindi naman pwede ma-hostage ang buong budget.”

“(On Chief PNP Cascolan’s statement they will remove PNP posts connected with red-tagging): I agree. Because even in the passage of the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020, hindi pwedeng pag tinag mo na terrorist, terrorist na yan. We should always be guided by evidence. Sabi ni Sec Guevarra maski anong clamor or perception ng public against an official of the govt that is undergoing investigation, at the end of the day we will always be guided or ruled by evidence. We cannot go beyond what is at hand, ang evidence na hawak ng nag-investigate. So let’s leave it at that. These are opinions of people that normally clash with each other.”

President’s Intelligence Funds for 2021:

I think (it’s) still a bit too much. It started with P700 plus million. I cannot recall under which administration.”

“It (became) something bigger, P726M, that’s what I saw in our records. It ballooned to P2B, P2.5B, now P4.5B, just for the OP. And the President has control over other intel funds of the entire bureaucracy meaning the executive dept. DND has their own intel fund, the PNP, NSA, BOC, BIR and so forth. Kontrolado pa rin ng Presidente yan, kung gusto niya i-control ang release, he can control. But maybe it’s time to really ask. These are cleared, ang liquidation nito walang problema because intelligence fund nga eh. So we want to find out. I myself intend to ask these questions when the OP’s budget is up for discussion. Pag sinabi mong P4.5B a year under 1 agency which is the OP, which is not a big office, how do they spend that? Yan ang tanong. And meron pang pang-presidente, ang share niya sa Pagcor and PCSO. And that runs to billions of pesos a year.”

“Let’s see. But I always say what I mean and I mean what I say. In any budget deliberations, I really ask questions. I want things to be clarified especially because this is our money, this is our budget. National debt natin nasa P9.16T. I remember early January before pandemic, nariyan lang tayo sa P7.8-7.9T. Now almost P2T ang nadagdag. And sa projection ng national govt, aabot tayo baka P12T national debt. Of course ang ratio nito 85-15, 85% domestic borrowing, 15% ang foreign. But where will this bring us, the next generation of Filipinos? A nation of baon sa utang? I don’t question borrowing. Pero dapat kaya tayo hihiram, mag-i-invest tayo for the future. But if we keep borrowing and we are not investing, palubog tayo niyan. Of course these are extraordinary times dahil may pandemic that we have to address. But year in year out I’ve been questioning this. We borrow more than what the budget needs. Meaning, ang borrowing natin vis-à-vis deficit masyadong malaking discrepancy. For example in previous years, ang projected deficit natin nasa mga P600B and ang hinihiram natin P1.2T. So I asked the national treasurer the question, why are we borrowing say for a family, for an analogy, ang pamilyang kumikita ng P2,000 a month at may gastos na P3,000, bakit uutang ka P6,000? Di ba dapat uutangin mo lang a little over P1,000 para may pang-invest ka para maging self-sustaining ka na. But here we are, every year every budget year we notice this, that we borrow more than double ng ating projected deficit. And the answer was this is classified, we cannot give you the details. I do not know.”

Budget for Travel Privileges:

We should cut on travels. Wala nang makakabiyahe ngayon. Pagka hindi mo binago, hindi mo i-cut ang travel expenses ng govt officials, saan sila pumupunta? May lockdown tayo, and nobody travels abroad. Kasi quarantine pa lang, if you go to HK for example di ba 14-day period lang ang visa, e kung 14 days quarantine ka bakit ka pupuntang HK?”

Judiciary Call to Restore P7B Slash in 2021 Budget:

“In fairness to the judiciary, alam mo ba ang share ng judicial branch sa national budget, it used to be less than 1%? I think it has now grown to a little over 2%. I have not seen the budget proposal for the judiciary. Let me take a look at that. And when we tackle the budget of the judiciary in the committee or even in the plenary I will make my own study or recommendation or proposal for amendments.”

DepEd Budget:

“Constitutional requirement, dapat sa Constitution No. 1. I don’t have the figures right now. But yes, DepEd always get the highest share of the national budget.”

Putting More Money in DND:

“Ang problema sa DND, we passed 2 laws to modernize them, first in 2002 and then we passed a revised AFP Modernization Program. Even that, hindi nila magamit, they are faced with so many procurement problems, technicalities and all. During the confirmation hearing of Gen Gapay, I asked him that. He said they need to complete all their requirements. Kailangan nila more or less P300B more. When I asked him meron ba kayong di nagagamit dito sa budget ninyo for modernization? He answered na yan ang problema sa procurement. So how do you synchronize needs with absorptive capacity?

Ito lagi nating problema. Since time immemorial, since we started participating in budget deliberations, every year, year in year out, ang laki ng unused. So ang tanong ko lagi sa economic managers, why pass or propose a budget that you cannot even consume, you cannot even obligate, you cannot even use? Di ba dapat realistic lang tayo? Ang lalaki, P200B, 400B. Even projection for the 2021 budget, ang projection nila na hindi magagamit nasa P176B na. So if that is the projection bakit di mo pa alisin yan, excise mo lang yan sa NEP? Anyway project mo naman hindi mo magagamit. Ang projection nila is always short of the actual. When we analyze the budget every year, lagi ang projection is smaller than the actual. In all areas. Ang projected deficit mas maliit lagi ang kanilang projection sa actual deficit. Tapos sa unutilized, ganoon din. So bakit di sila mag-adjust sa reality? Laging pasobra eh.”

DOH Budget, is P203.1B Enough?

Set aside the anomalies in PhilHealth, set aside all the corruption issues, under the Universal Health Care Act, there are 3 stages. Ang low-cost, medium-cost and high-cost. Low cost, P141B ang kailangan, meaning status quo, walang gagalaw. Ngayon pag sinama mo inflation and everything dapat madagdagan ng P10B. Under medium-cost kasi 2 years na tayo since passage of the UHC Act hindi tayo umaalis sa low-cost, P141B. Last year we even introduced amendments kaming mga senador nagdagdag ng P7B sa PhilHealth kasi P67B nadagdagan naging P74B. Dapat naroon na tayo sa medium cost, meaning P241B ang threshold. UHC pa lang. Kung P203B ang pino-propose nilang budget hindi pa approximate ang P241B na kailangan for medium cost. Ang medium cost is select priority areas ang mako-cover, meaning ito ang mga 4th- to 6th-class barangays or municipalities. Pag graduate natin sa high cost at P257B, ito ang all barangays will be covered. Bakit hindi tayo umaalis sa low-cost? E UHC kaya nga natin pinasa ito para ma-address ang health needs, para ma-expand ang coverage. And in the end all Filipinos will be covered, all barangays will be covered. So I think we should again introduce an amendment here to augment the budget of DOH para sa UHC from P203 paabutin natin ng medium cost. Bakit hindi tayo umaalis sa low cost?

In spite of all the anomalies, we’re still hoping that under the new leadership at least sa PhilHealth, ma-address ang anomalies. But we’re caught between ia-address ba natin ang health requirements ng mga Pilipino, o bibigyan natin ng additional budget to pocket itong mga shenanigans? Napakahirap. When we deliberate on the budget I myself, I am having sleepless nights because ito nagpapagod tayo nagpupuyat tayo kaaaral, I discuss with my staff, and I’m fortunate to have a very efficient staff pagdating sa deliberation not only in the budget, even sa PhilHealth anomalies, marami kaming contribution doon based on information that they gathered. Because I think I am a natural magnet for those who want to report anomalies. And we’re getting information and documents to share with the Senate.”

“At least P241B para maka-graduate tayo papunta sa medium cost ng UHC requirements. Kung P241B, kulang ito ng P35-37B.”

“I think so (If we can get the amount from other agencies). Ang P469B, diyan kami lagi kumukuha. When we notice na useless ang project and masyadong susceptible sa corruption, we always find a way to reduce or even delete the whole amount. More often than not nakukuha naman namin at nalilipat namin sa mas nangangailangan. For example I’m going to look for a source to return the P76M that was taken out of DOST, ang kanilang S&T. To me that’s very important. Kasi kailan pa tayo titigil? Sayang. Dapat ang concentration natin R&D. When I was CPNP meron kaming R&D unit. Alam mo ang trabaho nila mag-Google, mag-shop, magtanong. Sabi ko it only takes a Grade 5 pupil to Google and find out which item to buy.”

***

* PHILHEALTH ANOMALIES:

Evidence to pin Sec Duque on Corruption:

The investigation conducted by the Task Force that they are winding up as we speak, should go as far back as before the COW conducted our investigation into IRM, IT and other issues. Remember not too long ago, I raised the issue of conflict of interest involving Sec Duque. Lease nila ang kanilang EMDC building sa PhilHealth 1. He was SOH. And then ang Doctors Pharmaceuticals Inc., a family-owned pharmaceutical company nagsu-supply ng gamot sa DOH. Then we found out nabubulok o kaya nag-e-exprie ang gamot sa bodega ng DOH, di na-distribute sa mga barangays. Kung doon lang pagbabasehan never mind muna ang COW, kung doon pagbabasehan at masasaklaw ng investigation ng DOJ-led task force ang culpability ni Sec Duque I think at the very least that’s good reason enough for him to step down and not always depend on the President to defend him.”

“(The conflict of interest issue was not covered by COW investigation). But I think the DOJ-led investigation should cover other periods, not just period covered by the COW, it was just part of their investigation. And we submitted to him, I personally emailed to him the documentary and testimonial evidence that we gathered in the 3 hearings we conducted. And it’s all with him now for his appreciation. As far as Sec Duque and this is my personal opinion, I voted in favor of the COW report, as reported out by SP Sotto that Sec Duque should be included sa mga kakasuhan. Ang napaka-particular na kaso roon, ito ang talagang sabi ng kausap kong abogado, easiest to prosecute, most difficult to defend, ang Art 217 of Act 3815 a.k.a. RPC. Kasi yan i-prove mo lang ang abandonment and negligence di kailangan pakita ang deliberate intent o nakinabang. Basta abandonment or negligence swak ka na roon. And being the ex-officio chair of PhilHealth as SOH, I’m just in between having him indicted or not. Because if we will include him in the list of those who should be made answerable, dapat ang iba ring members ng Board. But probably he is correct probably he is not, na wala siyang pinirmahan. But ang opinion ni SP Sotto, dahil siya ang chairman, imposibleng hindi niya alam ang nangyayari sa PhilHealth.”

“It’s very obvious. Four-fold nga, quadruple whammy not just double whammy ang offense sa IRM. First ang date of effectivity June 11 so as of June 10 nakapag-release na sila ng P14B. All the releases and we counted all the releases, nasa mga 631 disbursements. So that’s 631 counts of violation of Art 217. Kasi illegal ang disbursement. Malversation yan eh. This is not technical malversation, because I heard from some congressmen they are thinking of filing technical malversation. No, this is plain and simple malversation of public funds. And more than the threshold amount of P8.8M, ito ang amendment ng RPC passed by Congress and sponsored by Sen FMD, pag lumampas ka ng P8.8M ang penalty is reclusion perpetua, meaning unbailable ito. Nagbilang kami nito, 300 plus ang nabilang namin na more than P8.8M. So there you go. It’s up to the SOJ or DOJ to appreciate the evidence.”

“Evidence-wise, at least to indict those who directly participated or were directly involved in disbursement like Limsiaco, Gen Morales and other members of the execom. But as far as the Board, I’m not sure. It depends on the appreciation of evidence.”

***

* MANCAO APPOINTMENT:

“Two words. Presidential prerogative. The President can appoint an angel, the President can appoint a devil, the President can appoint even Lucifer to any govt post, basta presidential appointee. So that’s all I can say. It’s presidential prerogative.”

“We already passed the Senate version on that issue (heavier penalties vs false testimony). I lost in the voting. What I was proposing was to make the offense of lying committing perjury equivalent to the penalty imposed on the person being accused falsely. Kung falsely accused ka for committing murder, dapat ang penalty ng nag-accuse falsely sa iyo, dapat life imprisonment din. But I lost in the voting. Anyway naiakyat na rin ang penalty sa offenses, graduated ito. But I was insisting sana na gawin nating commensurate. But I was outvoted by my colleagues sabi nila baka harsh and cruel punishment, and that is so provided in the Constitution. We are a deliberative collegial body and I lost in the voting. Kasi they have not experienced what I experienced siguro kaya we are coming from different perspectives.”

*****

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