Don't seek funds you can't spend, Sotto tells gov't agencies

Published August 28, 2021, 1:44 PM

by Vanne Elaine Terrazola

Following audit reports that billions of pesos in public funds were unspent, Senate President Vicente Sotto III said government departments and agencies should not ask for budgets they cannot utilize and instead make sure that essential programs get priority funding.

Senate President Vicente ‘Tito’ Sotto III leads on July 26, 2021 the opening of the third regular session of the upper chamber under the 18th Congress. (Senate PRIB)

“All these reports about government agencies underspending or not using their approved budgets is worrisome. Mas marami sana tayong nailaan na pondo para sa COVID-19 response at recovery program (We could have appropriated more funds for COVID-19 response and recovery programs),” Sotto said on Friday, August 27.

He noting how the Philippines has been borrowing funds to sustain its anti-coronavirus efforts, only to be “wasted” by government agencies on unimplemented projects.

“Why ask money from Congress for projects which you know you cannot fulfill? Why ask for money which you will not use anyway? You are wasting funds which could be used for more important programs, such as for mass COVID-19 testing, purchase of vaccines and other health services. There is also the special risk allowance for our healthcare workers,” the Senate leader told department heads.

Unspent funds must be returned to the national coffers since they cannot be realigned for other government programs without the approval of Congress.

Senator Joel Villanueva Villanueva was also skeptical about proposed budget allocation, especially for the Department of Health (DOH).

In a separate statement, he said the reported deficiencies and underspending of the DOH casts doubt on its ability to actually address the pandemic.

“Issues pertaining to the mismanagement of government funds, including underspending, obligating funds without disbursing, and releasing of funds to various entities without sufficient documentation, among other issues, are unacceptable,” said Villanueva, one of the vice chairpersons of the Senate Committee of Finance.

“The mismanagement of government funds by any agency especially the DOH at this point in time casts doubt on the quality and quantity of provision of much-needed health and social responses during this pandemic,” he added.

Under the National Expenditure Program submitted by the executive department to Congress, the DOH is proposing a P242-billion budget for 2022, a 15.1-percent increase from its 2021 budget of P210.2 billion.