Palace vows to expedite release of funding for senator's 2021 projects

The Office of the President (OP) has assured senators that it will prioritize and speed up government programs and projects whose funds were identified as "for later release" (FLR), as well as the "institutional amendments" of lawmakers in this year's national budget.

Senator Juan Edgardo 'Sonny' Angara (Senate PRIB)

Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea gave the assurance as the Senate Committee on Finance, chaired by Senator Juan Edgardo "Sonny" Angara, on Wednesday, September 22, approved the P8.182-billion proposed 2022 budget of the OP.

The President's budget will now be referred for plenary deliberation and approval.

During the committee hearing, Senator Nancy Binay inquired about the release of funds deemed as FLRs for projects of the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH).

Recalling the previous briefing of finance and economic managers in the Senate, Binay said that only 30 percent of the DPWH funds have so far been released, nine months since the 2021 General Appropriations Act (GAA) was enacted.

The Department of Budget and Management (DBM) had said that the release of the funds needed clearance from the OP, the senator cited.

Senior Deputy Executive Secretary Michael Ong, in response, explained that the projects to be financed by FLR funds have to "vetted fully" since they were not originally included in the National Expenditure Program prepared by the executive department.

"It's been nine months and hindi pa rin tapos ang vetting process niyo (your vetting process still isn't done). Nakakabahala lang (This worries us)," Binay said.

Aside from DPWH projects, Binay said funds for the implementation of the "Doktor Para sa Bayan" Act, which grants medical scholarships to augment the number doctors and health workers in the Philippines, have also been classified as FLR.

"At the end of the year, these funds (if not obligated) will revert to the Treasury," she said.

Senate Majority Leader Juan Miguel Zubiri raised the same concern for the institutional amendments made by senators in the budget.

"All my colleagues have been asking me about the FLR of their institutional amendments...We only have a week left of work, actually, ES, and then when we get back we'll have the budget," Zubiri said.

"Sayang lang po (It's a waste) because we all need to have countryside development and the only way to do countryside development is to push for the medical scholarships, to push for these infrastructure programs, for these different programs that were set in the budget," he added.

Medialdea said the OP has cleared the disbursement of many FLR funds and has directed the DBM to expedite its releases.

"We will just look into it and see to it that this will be acted soonest," Medialdea told the senators.

"We'll do it faster this time," he vowed.

Aside from the OP's budget, the Senate finance panel also approved the proposed budget of the Presidential Management Staff (PMS) of P751.172 million.