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.
In his interpellation at the hearing tackling the proposed Virology Institute of the Philippines Act, Sen. Lacson gets clarifications from DOST officials on the bill and its progress. He also pushed for the bill’s immediate passage. Sen. Lacson is the author of the Senate version of the bill (SB 1543).
Sen. Lacson chaired the Senate hearing on red-tagging and red-baiting, as chairman of the Senate Committee on National Defense and Security, Peace, Unification, and Reconciliation.
In his interpellation of the proposed 2021 budget of the DPWH, Sen. Lacson noted a “mangling” of the entire appropriations of the agency – totaling P666,474,289,000 – beyond recognition. “Hindi na natin makilala!”
Sen. Lacson’s Opening Statement at the Hearing:
The Chair welcomes everyone present in the joint public hearing of the Joint Committee to discuss several proposed measures that seek to rationalize and establish reforms in order to create a fair, sustainable and clear mechanism for the pensions of MUP and other related matters.
Distinguished colleagues who are present this morning, and guests convened today physically and virtually to find the need to address critical concerns which if not managed immediately would mean dire consequences in the financial welfare of our country. I speak of the ballooning pension requirements of our MUP which we fear may no longer be sustained by our scarce government resources in the coming years.
Certainly, it is high time we created a standalone special fund so that we may deter the inevitable fiscal disaster of draining the public coffers attributed to the bloating pension requirements of our uniformed retirees which up to this very moment completely rely on the national budget.
Sen. Lacson chaired the hearing for the 2021 budgets of the Southern Philippines Development Authority, Mindanao Development Authority, and the Office of the Presidential Adviser for the Peace Process.
At the start of the hearing, Sen. Lacson noted all three agencies were recipients of congressional initiatives initiated by his subcommittee and eventually included in the 2020 GAA. “Unfortunately as we all know, medyo tinamaan tayo ng COVID, so ang iba nabawasan, ang iba di na-release at all.”
Meanwhile, Sen. Lacson stressed the importance of ensuring regular funding for the OPAPP’s normalization program, as part of government’s long-term commitment to the peace process. The OPAPP aims to decommission 40,000 combatants by 2022, according to OPAPP Sec. Carlito Galvez Jr. “Since this is a program, dapat recurring budget ito under OPAPP because this is a long-term commitment… We cannot renege on this commitment. Otherwise sayang lang lahat na effort sa peace process natin especially with the passage of the BARMM organic act. Medyo kailangan pangatawanan natin ito,” Sen. Lacson said.
At the hearing on the 2021 budgets of the Commission on Audit and Office of the Ombudsman, Sen. Lacson stressed the DBM has no authority under the Constitution to issue a discontinuance against a constitutional body such as the COA – after noting that the DBM issued a budget circular providing for the discontinuance of Programs, Activities and Projects (PAPs) of COA amounting to a total of P173M under the 2020 budget as they were categorized as congressional initiative and as “For Later Release.”
“My point is, Mr. Chairman, under the Constitution – particularly Sec. 5, Art 9-A, it provides for the automatic and regular release of the annual appropriations of constitutional commissions. And COA very clearly is one of three constitutional commissions, Comelec and CSC being the others. Of course even the judiciary,” Sen. Lacson said as he also cited jurisprudence (Bengzon vs Drilon, GR 103524), where fiscal autonomy allows the constitutional bodies and the judiciary full flexibility to allocate and utilize their resources with the wisdom and dispatch that their needs require. “So pag sinabi nating fiscal autonomy, walang pakialam ang DBM.”
COA Chairman Michael Aguinaldo said that while they are okay with the DBM’s decision “considering the difficulties the govt was having with funding in view of the pandemic,” he would agree that “it’s a violation of fiscal autonomy under the Constitution.”
“I’d like to manifest this very clearly, let this not serve as a precedent for future issuances by DBM; huwag lang gawing precedent setting ito. If I may add, emergency or no emergency, hindi pwedeng precedent ito,” Sen. Lacson said.
At the hearing on the proposed 2021 budget, Sen. Lacson stressed the need for greater government support for research and development, especially in the fight against COVID-19. He also raised questions on:
* Information that PhilHealth is not getting full allocations from the sin tax
* Why P30B in COVID-19 response funds remain undisbursed
* NEDA’s ‘Resiliency’ planning
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