By Vanne Elaine Terrazola
Senator Panfilo Lacson on Thursday confirmed finding some P17 billion of alleged “pork barrel” funds in the Department of Public Works and Highway’s (DPWH) budget for next year.
This, after the Senate concluded its plenary debates on the P4.1-trillion proposed 2020 national budget Wednesday.
The P17 billion of supposedly questionable appropriations in the DPWH’s P529.77-billion budget was higher than the P14 billion Lacson bared in a media forum earlier the same day, when he likened the national budget to a game of “hide-and-seek”.
Lacson said the DPWH submitted to the Senate documents containing programs, activities, or projects (PAPs) that were not part of the General Appropriations Bill (GAB) transmitted by the House of Representatives and were not discussed in their deliberations.
“The ‘hide-and-seek’ game for the ‘elderly’ continues. We just got hold of the ‘errata’ submitted by DPWH to the Senate. Initially, we have observed that instead of clarifying the issues or providing details on several lump sum appropriations and/or vaguely described PAPs to be funded under the agency, what they submitted are new projects entirely different from what I questioned during [the] interpellation as described under the House version or GAB,” Lacson said in a text message Thursday afternoon.
“So far, we’re looking at around P17 billion including those in the errata,” he said.
But the senator said they would not allow such last-minute appropriations.
“Otherwise, it is tantamount to the Senate reneging on our mandate to scrutinize the budget thus surrendering to DPWH our authority as lawmakers to amend the budget bill,” he said.
He added that this gives them more reason to realign DPWH funds to more important programs of the government like Universal Health Care, free college education, and the National ID System.
Earlier, Lacson said the questionable DPWH funds involved the duplication of allocation for road projects, citing for instance, a P507-million fund and another P76 million for Kennon Road alone.
Lacson claimed that the alleged “pork” funds were inserted during the preparation of the National Expenditure Plan (NEP), where congressmen supposedly approach heads of agencies to include their pet projects before it is submitted to Congress.
“Napansin namin sa pag-aaral pa rin ng NEP compared to GAB, mukhang sa NEP pa lang nakapagpasok sila ng kani-kanilang proyekto (We observed while studying the NEP compared to GAB, it appears it is only in the NEP so far that they have inserted their respective projects),” Lacson told reporters.
“Wais eh. Ang transmit sa amin wala talagang masisilip except ‘yong mga siguro carelessness na rin sa pagmamadali rin kaya may lumabas P500,000 na gagawa ng tulay sa Ilocos. Meron din na request pa lang nasa budget bill na,” he said.
(They are cunning. When they transmitted the GAB to us we did not find anything questionable apart from items inserted out of carelessness, that’s why we found P500,000 for the construction of a bridge in Ilocos. There are also requests included in the budget bill.)
“Bago mai-finalize ang NEP, tinatawag na nila ang mga heads of agencies. DPWH for example, nagsa-submit na sila ng kani-kanilang proyekto kasi iniiwasan nila masilip. Kung sa amendment nila ipasok makikita at makikita namin ang difference ng NEP and HOR version,” he claimed.
(Before the NEP is finalized, they call the heads of agencies, DPWH for example, and submit their pet projects to avoid scrutiny. Because if they inserted their projects in their amendments, we will see the difference between the NEP and the House versions),” he claimed.
Lacson further alleged that congressmen are still “entertaining amendments” even as they have already approved their GAB version on final reading.
“Isa lang ang venue kung saan pwede ipasok ang additional amendments: sa bicameral conference committee (There is only one venue where they can insert their additional amendments: the bicameral conference committee),” Lacson said.