By Vanne Elaine Terrazola
The Department of Interior and Local Government’s (DILG) P236.22-billion proposed budget for 2020 has hurdled at the committee level in Senate on Monday.
The Senate Committee on Finance conducted on Monday a hearing on the DILG’s proposed budget based on the government’s National Expenditure Plan (NEP) for next year.
Senator Juan Edgardo “Sonny” Angara, committee chairman, afterward said the panel will endorse the proposed allocation of the DILG and its attached agencies for plenary discussions. Although the Senate still has to wait for the transmission of the General Appropriations Bill from the House of Representatives.
In the four-hour budget hearing, officials of the DILG were quizzed by senators on the performance of their agencies.
The Philippine National Police (PNP), for instance, was grilled over its slow-paced hiring of new policemen which, according to Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon, could have improved police visibility in the country.
PNP head General Oscar Albayalde said 26,865 uniformed positions remain unfilled as of December 31, 2018. The figure included vacant slots from retiring police officers and those dismissed from service.
Despite this, the PNP is still requesting from Congress its annual fund for the recruitment of 10,000 more policemen next year.
“You are not hiring fast enough, notwithstanding the authority given to you, to hire 10,000 [policemen] per year and yet with 26,685 vacancies, that means we’re two years and a half backlogged,” Drilon scolded the PNP.
Explaining to the senators, Albayalde said that a “large number of applicants” have lined up to be part of the country’s premier police force but only a few pass due the government’s “high standards.”
“The requirements set by law is really very, very high for the admission of patrolmen,” DILG Secretary Eduardo Año agreed.
But Drilon maintained that the PNP should be careful in hiring new members to prevent scalawags from joining the police force.
Drilon also questioned the assignment of policemen in-office tasks.
This, as Albayalde mentioned that PNP follows an “85-15” rule where the majority of their members are deployed for patrol and operations while 15 percent sit in offices to do administrative work.
“Why do we have policemen doing admin work? Why don’t we hire personnel just for admin work? The police officers are trained for peacekeeping, they are not trained to do office work…Shouldn’t we have police officers do actual police work?” the Senate minority leader said.
In response, Albayalde said they are already hiring 15,000 non-uniformed personnel so that policemen could be deployed in streets. “We have already hired 11,768,” the PNP chief reported.
Besides its recruitment process, the PNP was also asked by Sen. Imee Marcos to explain on the “problem” in the distribution of police patrol cars in cities in Metro Manila, Eastern Visayas and other municipalities.
PNP director for logistics Major General Edwin lamented the lack in funds to procure additional police cars.
He said the agency needs to buy 3,354 more patrol cars to meet their target of 8,941 cars in the country’s police stations.
Under the government’s 2020 spending plan, the PNP was allotted a P184.6-billion fund, higher than its P173.24-billion budget this year.
The DILG was also not able to skirt questions over its failure to disburse and liquidate funds given to them in the previous years.
Marcos cited the Commission on Audit’s (COA) 2018 report flagging the DILG for not liquidating the funds it transferred to implementing agencies and local government units for the rehabilitation of the areas ravaged by Typhoon Yolanda in 2013. More than P1 billion of the Yolanda funds remain unliquidated, state auditors found.
“Napasin ko (I observed), year on year, parating nasa COA report ito (this is always in the COA report). May plano ba tayo paano matatapos ito kasi magsi-six years na po ‘yong Yolanda (Do we have plans to end this because it has been almost six years since Yolanda struck),” Marcos said.
Undersecretary for Local Government Marivel Sacendillo told the Senate finance panel that the agency had been submitting its liquidation to the COA every year, but admitted that some agencies have yet to comply.
She said P347 million of the total P839 million funds spent by LGUs remains unliquidated as of June this year.
As for the Department of Public Works and Highways, Sacendillo said the rehabilitation projects “were reported completed but not yet liquidated.” The DPWH had an unliquidated balance of P219.6 million, said the COA.
Sacendillo said the DILG has given the DPWH and concerned LGUs until the end of this year to finish liquidating the spent Yolanda funds or else be ordered “to return the money.”
Meanwhile, Sen. Francis Tolentino suggested the transfer of the DILG’s resettlement government assistance fund to the newly-created Department of Human Settlements and Urban Development (DHSUD).
This, as he mentioned the COA report finding that the DILG only used 5.86 percent of its resettlement assistance fund in 2018. The DILG allotted P708.29 million for basic social services and assistance to local government units, which included the Resettlement Governance Project for 15 LGUs, for 2020.
Año agreed with Tolentino but said that the DILG will keep in touch with the DHSUD for validation of housing sites.
‘Lump sum’ fund?
Sen. Panfilo Lacson, meanwhile, questioned the presence of a lump-sum appropriation in the proposed DILG budget.
Lacson specifically referred to its proposed fund for “other financial assistance to LGUs” amounting to P4 billion for next year.
Año admitted that the DILG had “nothing to do” with the allocation, saying the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) decided to place it without the specific projects covered by the amount.
The staunch “anti-pork” advocate recalled that this also happened during their deliberation of the DILG’s 2019 budget, where the P7 billion initially proposed in NEP was raised to P16 billion and later reduced to P8.75 billion in the signed General Appropriations Act.
For 2020, Año said they “do not have” the items yet.
“So mauuwi ito sa (this will end up) unused appropriation…The fact remains that this is lump-sum appropriation that the Supreme Court prohibits,” Lacson said.
Año said the DILG will submit to the panel its proposals as to how the P4 billion will be spent, although Lacson has suggested realigning the amount to “more useful purposes.”
In an interview after the hearing, Año said he is looking to use the fund for infrastructure projects for provinces such as roads and bridges; as well as additional benefits for rebel returnees.