Senatorsâ P83.6-billion âpork barrelâ derails infrastructure projects â Rolando Andaya
“The senators unilaterally decided on the budget cuts and realigned them to other items based on request of individual proponents,” claimed Camarines Sur Rep. Rolando Andaya Jr., chairman of the House committee on appropriations.
KJ Rosales
Senators’ P83.6-billion ‘pork barrel’ derails infrastructure projects — Rolando Andaya
Delon Porcalla (The Philippine Star) - April 2, 2019 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — An official of the House of Representatives warned the people yesterday that the P83.6 billion in government funds realigned by senators that remained non-itemized could derail President Duterte’s massive infrastructure projects under the Build Build Build program. 

“The senators unilaterally decided on the budget cuts and realigned them to other items based on request of individual proponents,” claimed Camarines Sur Rep. Rolando Andaya Jr., chairman of the House committee on appropriations. 

“Up to now, the Senate has yet to make public a detailed report on the proponents who recommended the individual realignments,” he lamented, noting that P18.5 billion of this amount, which includes right-of-way funding, jeopardizes the “infrastructure master plan.”

The P18.5 billion is broken down as follows: P11 billion for Department of Public Works and Highways, P5 billion for Department of Transportation (for mass transport systems) and P2.5 billion for DPWH’s “foreign assisted” projects. 

“We wish to emphasize that the details of these budget cuts were not fully discussed in the bicameral conference committee,” said Andaya, who heads the House contingent in the bicameral conference committee that also includes senators. 

He said the unilateral decision of the senators to remove billions of pesos for right-of-way funding will stall infrastructure spending and become the “stumbling block” for the program.  

“Line-itemized budgeting by the House will not cripple the program,” Andaya asserted. 

Other items the senators put on the chopping block were P39 billion for pension and gratuity funds, P13.4 billion for miscellaneous personnel benefit fund, P7.5 billion for Department of Foreign Affairs (P2.5 billion of which are “missing” and P5 billion for Philippine Sports Commission). 

About P3 billion is for Technical Education and Skills Development Authority where 320,000 students now run the risk of losing their scholarships, and P2.2 billion for the Department of Environment and Natural Resources wherein  provincial offices suffered 50 percent budget cuts.

Senate President Vicente Sotto III described the latest pronouncements from House leaders on the P3.7-trillion General Appropriations Bill (GAB) as an attempt to muddle the issue and stop President Duterte from vetoing what senators believe were illegal realignments in the proposed national budget.

“It’s a last ditch effort to obfuscate the issue and try to prevent the President’s veto of their illegal realignments,” Sotto told reporters.

He said colleagues of Andaya were fully aware of the huge realignments he and other House leaders made to the GAB.

He expressed confidence that Duterte will make the necessary line item vetoes.

“No excuses necessary because the President knows everything,” Sotto said, apparently referring to justifications made by the House on realignments.

Sen. Panfilo Lacson said not all cuts he made to the GAB were necessary to prevent possible wastage of funds.

He said he pushed for the P75-billion cut in the proposed DPWH budget because the agency admitted it was not prepared to implement the projects the amount was supposed to fund.

He said he also sought the slashing of P20 billion from the right-of-way funding upon the request of the DPWH itself while the P16-billion cut in assistance to local governments was because the Department of the Interior and Local Governments was also not aware that it was given such funds.

“I found out that at least P23 billion was realigned at the initiative of a number of my colleagues,” Lacson said.

Other realignments were used to augment the much-depleted Health Facilities Enhancement Fund; activation of the Army’s 11th Infantry Division; adjustments on the purchase of medicines by the Veterans Memorial Medical Center due to the increase in the price index of medicines, and other institutional amendments, he said. – With Alexis Romero, Paolo Romero 

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