Skeleton Infra Projects! First Day of Senate Floor Deliberations on the 2021 Budget

Legislation

January 13, 2021 - On the first day of floor deliberations on the P4.5-trillion 2021 budget bill, Sen. Lacson revealed several ‘skeleton projects‘ of the DPWH to illustrate “how acts of corruption are committed than by the misuse and abuse of public funds. Not anymore by the hundreds of thousands but by the millions of pesos wasted during implementation of the national budget.”

Sen. Lacson suggested that the funds for the skeleton projects, including at least P68B for multi-purpose buildings (MPBs) go to items that need funding more in the budget, such as the National Broadband Program. He also questioned the ‘FLR’ (For Later Release) practice of the DBM.

MORE DETAILS:

* SKELETON PROJECTS:

Sen. Lacson bared the findings of his team that inspected some of the 5,913 ‘rehashed’ projects in the 2021 budget, worth P135 billion. “This is one item in the annual GAA that can take a back seat in 2021 and I’d like to illustrate why.” He suggested that the funds for the skeleton projects, including at least P68B for multi-purpose buildings (MPBs) go to items that need funding more in the budget.

The skeleton projects include Multi-Purpose Buildings such as:

1. A multi-purpose building (MPB) in Brgy Sapilang, Bacnotan, La Union, which received P15.6M funding in 2017, 2019 and 2020; and with a proposed funding of P5M for 2021. “Now pray tell, does this structure, a 400-square meter structure, look like it’s P15.6M to you? And shall we allow to allocate another P5M fir this project in 2021? I think the picture will answer your question.” Sen. Lacson also noted their resident engineer estimated that an MPB cost per square meter is about P25-30K. “Kung kukuwentahain natin P25K dapat tapos na ito sa P10M. But nakagastos na ng P15.6M, ayan pa hitsura. It’s a skeleton structure as we speak.”

2. Construction (Completion) of MPBs (gyms) in Brgys Mabalbalino and Balaya, San Carlos City, Pangasinan:

3. Rehabilitation (Completion) of MPB, Linomot Elementary School in Brgy Linomot, Jones, Isabela, a total of P21M. A funding of P2M is proposed for the project in 2021.

4. An MPB in Brgy Cacapian, San Juan, La Union is to get P8M in two items – one P3M and one P5M – in the 2021 GAB.

5. Construction (Completion) of MPB in Brgy Poblacion, Bacnotan, La Union. It got P10M in the 2019 GAA and P5M in the 2020 GAA. It is to get funding of P20M in the 2021 GAB, but Sen. Lacson noted this structure “was funded by the LGU, not from the GAA.” “Saan napunta ang P10M in 2019 and P5M in 2020?

6. Construction (Completion) of an evacuation center in Brgy Central East 2 in Bangar, La Union, with a P3M funding in the 2021 GAB. “Ang gagawing structure dito MPB, may nakatayo pang bahay. Dapat i-demolish muna. And yet sinasabi rito ginagamit na term sa item, Completion. Ano iko-complete dito?

Sen. Lacson suggested that some P68B for such MPBs be deleted and realigned for evacuation centers or quarantine facilities. “Maybe at the proper time if our colleagues will agree we just delete the proposed appropriations of P68B for such MPBs; ang iba siguro pwede realign dagdagin ang P2.7B to be used as evacuation centers or quarantine facilities para mas magamit at maging responsive sa theme ng 2021 GAA.”

I would strongly suggest at the proper time that the appropriations for MPBs not necessarily totally abandoned, but at least in 2021 baka pwede alisin muna ang most of the P68B, ang VILP and LIP. And when we inquired, VILP would include national buildings, and we don’t want to touch those. These are probably offices of the DPWH or national buildings for some national offices. Pero ang mga local projects, nakita naman natin na skeleton after appropriating a few million pesos, ganoon ang itsura e para tayong nagpapaloko.

Other skeleton projects include road projects such as:

1. Road to Nowhere: Eastern Interior Bypass Road (Gusa Puerto Jct Sayre Highway), Cagayan de Oro City, which Sen. Lacson questioned while deliberating on the 2018 GAA as the ROW issues have not been resolved.

The project was funded in 2018 and 2020, and is to get P414.5M in the 2021 budget bill. But while the items in the 2018 GAA included “ROW and bridge” (P200M) and a tunnel (P150M), there was no bridge or tunnel as the DPWH regional director said a tunnel is not feasible. “Gumastos tayo rito ng P1.791B kung isasama ang proposed budget under the 2021 GAB na P415.5B. Mag-appropriate pa ba tayo ng P414B after spending P1.3 to 1.4B for a project that is no longer feasible?

Sen. Lacson added the DPWH regional director said the bridge is not feasible because the dike has to be fixed first. “If it does not reflect poor planning I don’t know what is.

“In case you haven’t noticed, some of the staff branded it road to nowhere kasi wala talagang pupuntahan. Papuntang bundok naka plano ang tunnel in-abandon ang tunnel. Pero napondohan ang tunnel. Naging white elephant, ginastusan na kung isasama pa hingi sa 2021, P1.8B.”

2. Guicadale Road Network to Bicol International Airport (Manawan-Kinuartilan Section), Camalig, Albay, with appropriations of P10M in the 2020 GAA but with a proposed funding of P1M in the 2021 GAB.

“How much would 1 km of road cost? In Bicol ang cost is P25M ang 2-lane 1 km road. Kung bibigyan natin ng P1M itong project na ito, ang magagawa lang, 40 meters. Is it wise to appropriate P1M just to construct 40-linear meter road for this project? Parang hindi. Mobilize ng equipment, 40 meters lang pala magagawa.”

3. Access road leading to Lidong Seaport, Sto Domingo Albay, with a funding of P20M in the 2020 GAA and P2M in the 2021 GAB.

“We were told Lidong Seaport is privately owned. So why would govt spend tapos ginagamit daw ang seaport sa quarrying ng Chinese? Kayo na bahala humusga.”

Sen. Lacson said these questionable items are in the proposed budget amid a growing debt that hit P4.6 trillion during the pandemic era only, with the debt possibly ballooning to P12 trillion. “Uutang tayo uli kasi kailangan natin ng vaccine. And yet see for yourselves how funds are being wasted. And the proposed 2021 budget should be redirected to conform with the sign of the times.

***

* NATIONAL BROADBAND PROGRAM:

Sen. Lacson suggested that part of at least P68B in skeleton projects be realigned to projects such as the National Broadband Program of the DICT. He noted the 2020 UN e-govt survey ranked the PH 77th out of 193 in e-govt development index, and 57th in e-participation index, but added that while the PH has a very highly developed human capital progress, “it is relatively stalled because of our relatively less developed telecommunications infrastructure.” In the Digital Quality of Life Index 2020, the PH ranks 82nd in internet affordability, 77th in internet quality, 67th in electronic infrastructure.

He also stressed the NEDA had indicated the adoption of digital technologies can help the country in overcoming and recovering from the crisis brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic. Yet, he said that from the requested amount of P18.178B, only P902.194M was provided in the NEP.

Sen. Lacson added high increases in the number of transactions and account users during the quarantine period, with the volume of transactions using PesoNet and InstaPay showing a substantial growth of 122% from P23M to P51.2M from the first to second quarter of 2020 alone. “Now bakit ayaw natin mag-invest sa technology? Because it’s not so tangible. Di nakikita ang tulay o kalye o MPB, intangible eh. But the benefits we will reap over the next 5, 10 or 20 years, tremendous.”

***

* NATIONAL ID:

Sen. Lacson received an assurance from Finance Committee chairman Juan Edgardo Angara that the budget for the National ID system will not be a victim of ‘FLR.’ “This is one endeavor we should pursue and support. Kung kailangan accelerate we can add more funding for this. This is a landmark program para di tayo mapag-iwanan. Parang tayo na lang ang walang National ID,” Sen. Lacson noted.

***

‘FLR’ PRACTICE:

Sen. Lacson questioned the DBM’s inclusion of congressional initiatives in the “negative list” as “FLR (For Later Release),” noting this is not the guidelines on the release of funds. “P135B in congressional initiatives (in the 2020 GAA), tinira ng FLR, in effect violating Section 3 of the general provisions of the 2020 GAA. Kung individual insertions I can understand. But there are institutional amendments na tinarget din for FLR.”

DICT and DOST items tagged as FLR:

Pati ELCAC. Si Presidente ang chairman ng NTF-ELCAC. Pati ba naman yan na-FLR?”

“These are just samples. Pati national ID na-FLR din, P2B.”

We don’t know our priorities. Ang suggestion ko sana, dalhin natin sa unused appropriations. Sana ang DBM nagtanong sa agencies ano sa tingin nyo mga projects na di nyo kaya ma-implement, FLR natin yan kasi di nyo kaya implement within the year? Di ba mas sound ang ganoong act or move? Instead of indiscriminately basta nakitang CI, FLR, regardless kung individual insertions or institutional amendments.”

“Most of our amendments here I know it for a fact kasi take up natin sa caucus are institutional amendments. So ano ang naha-hamper? E di ang operation din ng national government, which mostly executive dept.”

“We’d like to appeal to DBCC particularly sa DBM, kung pwedeng igalang naman ang authority ng Congress over the budget.”

***

* ‘HORROR ROLL’ APPROPRIATIONS:

Meanwhile, Sen. Lacson pointed out the disparity in the distribution of the appropriations in Congress, including:

* One urban district in Davao is being appropriated P15.351B;

* One district in Albay, P7.5B;

* One district in Benguet, P7.9B;

* One district in Abra, P3.75B.

“Yan ang honor roll, Mr. President; horror roll … Tapos may nakita kaming districts P82M, may P42M pa. I just want to point out. Bakit ganoon ang disparity? Kasi kung one engineering district yan babagsak I cannot see how that particular engineering district would implement P15.351B of infra projects.” (30)

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