Around 42 districts are uniformly allocated with P1 million each for infrastructure under the National Expenditures Program (NEP), Senator Panfilo Lacson disclosed.
This was apparently “insertions” of lawmakers as a result of their haggling with the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) during the crafting of the National Expenditures Program (NEP).
“We have seen P1 million uniformly appropriated to several districts. I think, 42 districts all over the country. What does that mean? That means, there are insertions but not inserted anymore under the General Appropriations Bill (GAB) in Congress but in NEP which was submitted very late by the DPWH.
Citing information from some members of the House of Representatives, Lacson said that some congressmen’s haggling caused the delayed submission of DPWH on the details of at least P396 billion lump-sum appropriations.
“Following that assumption that there was haggling, the information came from the congressmen themselves, the breakdown that was submitted by the DPWH, the local projects’ budget increased especially the multi-purpose buildings,” he said.
Under the NEP, these multi-purpose buildings have a P67 billion allocation.
To recall, the DPWH submitted an addendum to the Department of Budget and Management to provide details to the P396 billion lump-sum appropriations in the NEP.
The said addendum was submitted 12 days late and was taken as part of NEP sent to Congress.
Last week, Lacson said he will seek amendments to the P666.47-billion budget of the DPWH if there are no “substantial changes” between the projects included in the NEP and the House of Representatives version of the proposed P4.5-trillion 2021 national budget.
This was his statement after he noted a “pattern of decreased budgets for national projects and increased budgets for local projects” in the addendum sent by DPWH in the NEP.
Under the originally submitted DPWH budget under the NEP, local programs were only funded with P176 billion but in the addendum, it was hiked to P229.006 billion.
Lacson said haggling with the agencies under the Executive Department may not be tagged as “illegal” but it may be considered as a violation of the budgetary process.
“When the budget arrives at the Senate, we will try to examine all these and discuss among ourselves which of the amendments introduced by the House of Representatives because that is our function,” Lacson said.
“Once they submit to us the GAB, it is up to the senators to amend further. Then we meet in Bicameral Conference Committee to reconcile the disagreeing provisions,” he added.
The House of Representatives is expected to transmit their version of the appropriations bill to the Senate on 28 October.
State hospitals’ budget cut flagged
As this developed, Senator Risa Hontiveros on Thursday flagged at least P2 billion cut on the Department of Health’s 2021 budget for the operations of 33 national and regional state hospitals.
In a statement, the lawmaker expressed concern on the slash in these budgetary items as the said amount will cover the costs of utilities, medicine, diagnostic procedures, IV fluids and other expenses essential to patient care.
With this, state hospitals will have to divert their income to compensate for the expenses unfunded by the national government.
“Billions worth of cuts in the middle of a pandemic means we drastically slashed the capacity of government hospitals to provide services and medicines for free. Because of this, the out-of-pocket expenses of the people will increase. This is grossly anti-poor and anti-people,” she said.
The lawmaker cited three major COVID-19 referral hospitals that will be affected by the budget cuts.
Among the state hospitals she mentioned is the Quirino Memorial Medical Center in Quezon City which currently has a 67.2 percent bed occupancy rate and catered to the majority pf COVID-19 cases in the Philippines, yet, it was deprived of P305.48 million for its optimal operations.
The Southern Philippines Medical Center (SPMC) in Davao City, which caters to most of the COVID-19 cases in Mindanao and the biggest hospital in the country, yet it received a P699.2 million budget cut for next year.
SPMC is currently at full capacity and its general wards are 97 percent occupied.
The other one is the Corazon Locsin Montelibano Memorial Hospital which is the major COVID-19 testing center in Bacolod City yet was denied of P242.19 million for next year.
Meanwhile, DPWH Secretary Mark Villar on Thursday admitted that there are indeed cases of irregularity within the agency amid corruption allegations in the department.
In a television interview, Villar disclosed that some employees of the department linked to anomalies have been placed on floating status.
“In many cases, we have placed a lot on floating status,” said Villar. “In fact, after implementing reforms, about 30 contractors were already blacklisted and they are big contractors.”
However, the DPWH chief stressed that while there are cases of irregularities, it’s not 100 percent in the department.
Villar revealed that they have received complaints on irregularities inside the department and because of it, the DPWH made institutional reforms and monitoring systems to address the issues.
Recently, a Commission on Audit report showed that DPWH has P100 billion worth of delayed and unimplemented projects in violation of Procurement Law and agreed contracts.
In its 2019 annual audit report on DPWH, state audits said that these delayed and unimplemented projects reached P101 billion in 2019, lower than 2018 figure of P118 billion.
DPWH attributed the delayed implementation of projects to the delayed release of capital outlay allotments, which only started in June 2019 due to delayed approval of 2019 national budget law.
with Elmer Manuel