Lacson Questions Disproportionate Fates of DICT, DPWH Appropriations in 2021 Budget Bill

One department with a track record of underspending and questionable, wasteful projects may be getting an added P28.348 billion, while another department implementing a much-needed national broadband program is getting a “useless” increase of less than P1 billion in the 2021 budget.

Sen. Panfilo M. Lacson thus lamented on Wednesday evening the 2021 budgets of the Department of Public Works and Highways and the Department of Information and Communications Technology, after they went through the bicameral conference committee.

“As it is, at P666.474 billion as proposed under the National Expenditure Program, and we actually base this on the historical data I mentioned, we can immediately see that P82 billion cannot be used. And here we are further increasing the budget of DPWH by P28 billion… We should learn our lessons from that data,” Lacson said in his interpellation of the bicameral conference committee report of the 2021 budget.

Related: Ping Nagtataka sa 2021 Budgets ng DPWH at DICT

Ironically, Lacson noted underutilization was the common reason for the contrasting fates of the DPWH and DICT budgets, adding he will register a dissenting vote in the ratification of the bicameral conference report.

“What’s good for the goose should also be good for the gander. The bicam increased the DPWH budget by P28 billion, amid my pointing out its low utilization rate. Now they are using the same argument for DICT? I mentioned during my sponsorship of the budget of the DICT that the national broadband program can save us P34 billion in the next five years once completed. What happened?” he said.

“At the proper time, I am manifesting my dissenting vote on the bicam report for the reasons I had given during my interpellation. At the appropriate time I am going to explain my vote,” he added.

Earlier, Lacson recommended a reduction of P60 billion from the DPWH’s proposed budget for 2021, including for multi-purpose buildings except those to be used as evacuation and quarantine facilities, as well as double appropriations, right-of-way payments and also overlapping projects.

He also raised the issue of some P26 billion in Right-of-Way (ROW) appropriations for the DPWH – including P11.4 billion in the 2020 General Appropriations Act and some P5.7 billion embedded ROW appropriations in projects, as well as P22.14 billion in ROW appropriations and P4.05 billion in embedded ROW in the proposed 2021 budget.

While Lacson noted that P14 billion was deducted from ROW appropriations for the 2021 budget under the Senate version, ROW appropriations went up after the bicameral conference committee tackled the budget bill.

Lacson noted the increase in appropriations for the DPWH despite its poor disbursement record makes for a vicious cycle.

“It’s a very vicious cycle. That’s why I’m asking those questions for future reference, we should learn our lessons from that data,” he said.

Even worse, Lacson said the appropriations for MPBs were increased. “I will not mention anymore the locations because I don’t want to put some people on the spot. Suffice it to say that I know where additional funds for MPBs went to, or are intended to be appropriated. So let’s leave it at that,” he said.

Meanwhile, Lacson questioned 793 line items for multi-purpose buildings in the DPWH budget, with a uniform P1-million appropriation each. This is despite the assessment that MPBs with a budget of less than P2 million would not be implementable.

On the other hand, Lacson lamented the DICT’s budget was slashed at the bicameral conference committee level – after the House and Senate increased its appropriations for 2021.

He said the Senate increased the P902-million appropriations for the DICT by P3 billion after the House increased it by P2 billion so the DICT can implement the national broadband program (NBP).

While the P5.9 billion is still below the P18 billion needed to implement the NBP nationwide, DICT Sec. Gregorio Honasan said this will allow them to implement the program from Metro Manila to Davao, excluding Regions 1 and 2.

Yet, Lacson said that at the bicameral level, the net increase was slashed to P956 million.

“Out of the requirement of P18 billion, you are effectively giving it just that amount. What can we do with that amount? Nothing,” he said.

“Under the House version, the DICT appropriations went up by P2 billion, so it had P2.9 billion for the NBP. Under the Senate version we further increased it by P3 billion so it became P5.9 billion. Sec. Honasan said it can cover Metro Manila to Davao. But now it seems the NBP can reach only Caloocan or Valenzuela City. Kawawa naman,” he added.