Sotto: Duterte fed with 'wrong info' on underspending rant

Published July 26, 2021, 2:23 PM

by Vanne Elaine Terrazola

President Duterte may have been given with the “wrong” information when he was chiding lawmakers for calling out the underspending of COVID-19 response funds.

President Duterte and Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez III (Malacañang)

Senate President Vicente “Tito” Sotto III gave this assumption Monday, July 26, as he sought to “correct” Duterte’s impression that he and his colleague, Senator Panfilo “Ping” Lacson, were criticizing the administration’s underspending of the government funds under the Bayanihan laws.

Lacson already said that Duterte was barking up the wrong tree.

“I think they gave the President a different information, or if I may call it, a wrong information,” Sotto said in a virtual press briefing after leading the opening of the Senate’s third regular session under the 18th Congress.

“Sen. Lacson and members of the Senate, ang sinasabi sa unused ay sa budget, wala kaming sinasabing Bayanihan (Sen Lacson and members of the Senate were pertaining to the national budget, we made no mention of the Bayanihan fund). So I don’t know who gave the wrong information to the President or somebody gave the wrong information to Sec. Dominguez,” he added.

“If there was another member of the Senate who mentioned about hindi na-spend mabuti ‘yong dahil tapos na ‘yong June 30 na Bayanihan 2 (the inadequate spending because the Bayanihan 2 lapsed last June 30), or something like that, hindi kami ‘yon (it was not us),” he said.

Several lawmakers, including senators, have previously issued statements lamenting the slow utilization of government funds during the coronavirus pandemic.

They were quoting figures and reports from the executive department to cite the supposed underspending of the national budget and the COVID-19 response funds under the Bayanihan 2 law.

The Congress was even prompted, at Malacañang’s request, to extend last year the validity of appropriations under the 2020 budget and the Bayanihan to Recover as One, or Bayanihan 2 Act.

When the Bayanihan 2 expired last June 30, a number of critical programs responding to the pandemic were stopped due unobligated funds, including the public utility vehicle (PUV) service contract program which gave free rides to essential and frontline workers.

Health workers have also been staging various protests over the government’s supposed failure to release their benefits mandated under laws.

On Monday, Lacson, said he learned from his research that over P63 billion was unspent under the Bayanihan 2 fund.

Of the amount, he said P46.397 billion was undisbursed while P17.273 billion was unobligated.

“Underspending is determined not by releases but by obligations and disbursements…Is there underspending? Yes!” Lacson said on Twitter.

“This can be considered huge underspending,” he said in a statement later.

During the televised meeting with Duterte over the weekend, Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez III, however, denied that the government has been underspending funds during the COVID-19 outrbreak. He said only P6 billion, or only one percent of the government’s coronavirus response funds remained unreleased.

Sotto said the Senate Comittee of the Whole, which he chairs, will consider looking into the underspending of the Bayanihan 2 funds.