The Senate is eyeing to cut the budgets of three agencies with huge unused appropriations in the previous years, Senator Panfilo Lacson said on Wednesday.
These agencies include the Departments of Education, Transportation, and Public Works and Highways.
Under the Senate version of the General Appropriations Bill (GAB), the Department of Education (DepEd) was allocated with P525.884 billion, Department of Transportation (DoTr) with P126.86 billion, and Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) with P529.771 billion.
“They only release 36 percent, 39 percent that’s how small the money they release for payment compared to their obligation… We have talked about it with other senators that there are agencies which budget should be cut so that we can transfer to more important expenditures,”
Lacson said in a forum at Senate.
Lacson said there would be “significant” cuts to fund landmark legislations such as the National ID System, Universal Health Care (UHC) and the Universal Access to Quality Tertiary Education (UAQTE).
“We will do significant cuts so that we can allocate to (projects) that need funding because we passed (landmark) laws. Why did we pass these laws if we cannot comply (its funding)? We need to give priority to health, education like we always say so that we can see where our increased taxes go,” he stressed.
Lacson recalled that the Department of Budget and Management’s cash-based budgeting since the first year of President Rodrigo Duterte has a ‘use it or lose it’ policy.
“The DBM during the first budget deliberations of the administration said that (government agencies) should use it or lose it. This should not be lip service or rhetoric that is only good for the ears. If you cannot implement it, then you should not be given funds,” Lacson explained.
The senator noted that every year the budget of these agencies are increasing despite underspending billions of pesos every year which was proven “historically and traditionally.”
“Well, we will just follow what (the DBM) was saying: use it or lose it. We are the ones who will implement that instead of the Executive Branch. It will be done by the Congress because they should lose a portion of their budget if they cannot use it,” he said.
Lacson said that Congress has been passing measures to extend the validity of the appropriations every year due to the underspending of the government agencies suggesting that the government should go back to obligations-based budgeting.
“Why would we operate on the cash-based (budgeting) yet we could apply the previous policy which allows continuing appropriations? It is just the same,” he said.
Previously, Lacson said there are items in the 2020 budget that can be realigned for his pet project, the National ID System, which needs P5.656 billion to cover 14 million Filipinos and resident aliens.
Under the 2020 budget, only P2.4 billion were allocated for the National ID System which will cover some 6.3 million Filipinos.
Lacson added that the budget for the UHC under the 2020 GAB is in regression with the Department of Health’s on-going programs, activities, and projects.
This relapse will affect the fiscal space of P151 billion instead of P241 billion that should fund the high-cost implementation of the UHC.
Meanwhile, the funding of the Tertiary Education Subsidy (TES) can support only 432,000 of 1.5 million applicants.
Part of the budget that can be realigned is the National Greening Program of the Department of National and Environment Resources which, according to Lacson, acquired P33 billion for the past eight years including the P5 billion for 2020.
Aside from that, the P14-billion “vague” infrastructure projects can be cut from the DPWH budget.
The Senate has finished the interpellation of the budget of the departments on Wednesday night.
It will undergo the period of amendments on Monday where the Senators can introduce individual or institutional amendments.