#PINGterview: ‘Uniform’ Appropriations for Several Districts Spotted in DPWH’s 2021 Budget

In an interview on ABS-CBN News Channel, Sen. Lacson answered questions on:

* P1-M ‘uniform’ appropriations for at least 42 congressional districts in DPWH’s 2021 budget

* need to prioritize vaccines, R&D in 2021 budget

On Speaker’s claim of No Pork in Budget, Only Institutional Amendments:

“We have yet to see the transmitted copy of the GAB-2 as approved on third and final reading, as transmitted to the Senate. Until we see that, we cannot really tell or say if there’s pork or not in the HOR version of the budget.”

Pagdating sa Senate we will try to examine all these and discuss among ourselves which of the amendments introduced by the HOR, kasi yan ang function namin. Once they submit to us the GAB-2 it is up to the senators to amend further. Then we meet in BCC to reconcile the disagreeing provisions.”

I don’t think we can distinguish anymore (between the version approved on third reading and the version with the output of the small group/committee) because we have not seen the approved on third reading version. And what they’re saying is what they will transmit to us is the approved third reading version, only medyo giveaway ang statements ng ilang congressmen especially ang HOR appropriations committee chairman na ang further amendments will be coming from the agencies not even from the congressmen. Emphasizing na hindi ito pork barrel kundi institutional because nanggaling sa agencies, which to me is mali yan kasi tapos na ang role ng executive branch, budget preparation sila. Nasa authorization phase na tayo, legislation na, only lawmakers can participate in legislation. That’s what I’m saying. Having said that, pagdating ng final version ng HOR, we still have to examine, ang senators. That’s the budget process naman.”

“It depends on what kind of local projects (will be scrutinized). Kasi marami ring local projects na pwede mag-respond sa pandemic, sa needs ng COVID19. It really depends. There are a lot of factors involved here. Hindi naman porke’t local or national ito, bawasan ang local. When we scrutinize the budget, maraming factors involved.”

On ‘Presumption of Regularity’ of HOR Version of Budget:

Is your reference the small committee output? That is unconstitutional. To say there’s presumption of regularity, I think it’s misplaced. If that is the output of the small committee and they will include these amendments in the USB drive they will transmit to us on Oct 28, then we cannot presume regularity, with all due respect to my SP. Because if it is based on an unconstitutional act, I cannot presume regularity.”

“It’s not a matter of recognizing or accepting whatever amendments they will send to us. Anyway the budget process has not been completed. And even the authorization phase has not been completed, and that can easily be remedied or cured by the Senate version and eventually ang bicameral conference namin. Hindi pa pwedeng i-declare unconstitutional ang 2021 GAA kasi wala pa naman tayong naipapasang batas. What I am only saying is that very clear ang Constitution on both Houses for that matter, sa Senate we strictly adhere to that provision basta maipasa namin on 3rd reading wala na. Between 2nd and third reading may 3-day rule yan. The only reason for that is to allow the members of the HOR or Senate to see for themselves the clean copy of what we had approved under the second reading. Now wala nang pwedeng mag-introduce kasi on second reading pagpasok yan ang final version, we cannot alter that anymore even in the third reading kasi ministerial yan, that’s only to formalize what we discussed, interpellated and deliberated on the floor, including amendments. So yan ang nakita namin sa Constitution. After third reading di na pwede talaga.”

Questionable Items in DPWH Budget:

It seems as per information coming from some congressmen themselves, there was a lot of haggling that went on between DPWH and some congressmen, so much so that DPWH was not able to submit on time. Following that assumption na may haggling, galing na nga talaga sa congressmen ang breakdown an sinubmit ng DPWH na nag-increase ang local projects, especially MPBs, P67B worth of MPBs.”

May nakita pa kami P1M uniformly appropriated to several districts, I think 42 districts all over the country. What does that mean? Ibig sabihin ito ang insertions na nga, but inserted not anymore under GAB in Congress but sa NEP na submitted very late ng DPWH.”

Maybe it’s not illegal (as claimed by some congressmen) but it’s in violation of the budget process kasi preparation it starts with the budget ceiling given or issued by the DBM to the different agencies, and the agencies will be summoned to a budget call. Ito ginawa noong March. Sa budget call they submit a list of their PAPs and then DBM Aug 25 submit based on the submission of the agencies.”

Napapansin din namin yan, we also question that year in year out, laging round figures. When you construct a building maski papano may sosobrang P18K, etc; bakit exact P100M? Again ang pwede nating sabihing lump sum appropriations ito. And how can you construct a building, ang sabi kasi nila hindi pa bid out. And ito ang parang estimate na parang gagastusin sa pagpagawa ng MPB. That’s fine. Pero di ba dapat vine-vet na ito ng DPWH at meron silang study na ginagawa magkano ang gastos sa paggawa ng MPB o even kalsada? Meron silang civil engineers who can estimate. And even estimates would not amount to round figures.”

Added Funds for Vaccines:

“Definitely. Ang P2.5B for vaccines, that would cover only 3.9M Filipinos. Assuming we have the vaccine by April maraming mangangailangan ng vaccine. If we vaccinate only 3.9M what happens to the 96M others? Magkahawaan din yan. Parang trickle in the bucket ang P2.5B so definitely hindi lang ako, other senators would love to further increase the appropriations for vaccines, not just for vaccines. Ang Reset, Rebound, Recover theme ng national budget ng 2021, dapat masunod. Para ano pa ang theme kung di yan ang ating guide? Ang kanilang phasing dito I think ang emergency phase tapos na tayo, hanggang May 2020 yan. Tapos we are now in the Recovery phase, meaning June to December, recovery. And Resiliency na sa 2021. Kung hindi natin susundin ang theme na sinusunod ng executive branch when they crafted the NEP, alisin na lang natin ang theme. Kaya may parameters, may theme. Maski kami doon kami susunod.”

“Pag sinabi nating kailangan maging resilient na tayo kaya nasa recovery phase from pandemic, tugunan natin ang pangangailangan ng COVID19. Why appropriate only P2.5B? So definitely we will support the move of the HOR to increase pa yan. Sa akin nga tingin ko at least P10B kailangan ng DOH para sa vaccines.”

Other Items that Should Get More Funds in Budget:

Build, Build, Build should be there, yan mag-spur ng economy. I noticed also DICT, kailangan build natin ang national broadband program. I’m the one sponsoring the budget of DICT. During our committee hearing they were asking for P18B para sa national broadband program. Binigay sa kanila P902M and they tried to justify it by saying that ang laki ng matitipid ng govt pag nabuo natin ang national broadband program. For the first year mahigit P700M ang savings kaagad. Within 5 years ang ma-save ng govt, P34B. Kasi sa WiFi service lang, how many offices, how many agencies are subscribing to private ISPs? Kung may sarili nang internet service ang gobyerno as in other countries, malaki talaga matitipid natin. Ang estimate ng DICT, in 5 years’ time, P34B. With an investment of P18B ang ma-save in 5 years is P34B. Hindi ba magandang economics yan? Pati Free WiFi service nag-request sila (ng additional P3.625B), maliit binigay sa kanila. Ito ang investment.”

Also sa R&D. DOST tinanggalan ng P76B. Ang R&D wala tayong ginawa kundi mag-shopping. Samantalang pag R&D ang daming scholars. We were informed by DOST na there are so many scholars, ang mga scientists and researchers. So why don’t we just harness the homegrown talents?

Lack of Revenue May be Felt in 2021:

“Pag nag-uusap tayo ng problema hindi matatapos. Ang problema ng govt natin not this year, ngayon lang ang aspect ng revenue, mafe-feel natin ito next year. Itong taon walang kita ang tao o corporations or MSMEs, more than 1M of them, and 90% are small and medium. Ang large corporations nasa 4K lang or even less. Ngayon sino ang magsu-sustain ng expenditure na gagastusin ng gobyerno? Because kung walang kita ang taon, babagsak ang income tax returns, babagsak ang corporate income tax, babagsak lahat na collection pati VAT because consumption was decreased. Next year ITR tayo, siguro mga fixed income earners lang makapag… like govt workers and hindi na-retrench. But how many workers in the private sector ang natanggal? So hindi mag-file ng income tax returns yan. Di ba natin, the worst is yet to be felt by Filipinos. That’s what I’m saying. Pagdating ng 2021 ang revenue collection natin will be down.”

Issues on Absorptive Capacity, Cash-Based Budgeting System:

“Ang problema rin ang absorptive capacity. We’re looking at the unused appropriations, based on the statement of appropriations, allotments, disbursements ng mga agencies. Ang problema binigyan nila ng malaking amount ang DPWH, DoTr, DepEd. And yet ang 2019 SAOB, ang nagta-tap dito DPWH ng mga nasa P83B documents nila ito, P83B ang unused appropriations. And DOH itself, may unused appropriations medyo malaki rin. DoTr I think P21B, P42B ang DepEd. Yan ang problema. While we are willing to appropriate, are they prepared to absorb the budget para ma-implement? They cannot spend it. Kasi ang 2019 SAOB which is the latest reference, kasi di pa tayo tapos sa 2020, but year in year out ang laki ng unused appropriations. There’s something wrong with their implementation.”

Ang cash-based hindi naman nasusunod. Kasi when cash-based budgeting system was introduced, we were forced to pass a joint resolution extending the lifespan of the budget to another year. So parang hindi rin cash-based. And then the following year ganoon na naman, pass ng batas because of the recent SC ruling na di na pinapayagan ang joint resolution na may effect ng law. So we passed a law extending the effectivity of the spending authority of the entire govt bureaucracy until Dec 2021. So ganoon din eh. So pag cash-based hindi natin kaya because we cannot disburse. Ang disbursement rate particularly ng DPWH, 53%. Meron tayong obligation rate, may disbursement rate. Nag-obligate pero di naman nagdi-disburse, or na-appropriate, hindi naman na-obligate. Napakahirap intindihin ang budget, 4K pages. Yet lalong pinahihirap ng legislators. Sana kami mag-simplify. As it is the national budget is a very complicated system already. And it is sad and unfortunate ang national budget a.k.a. GAA, ito ang most violated if not most abused law that we pass year in and year out.” (30)

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