Senators realign P206 billion in 2020 budget
The realignments are reflected in a nine-page summary the Senate contingent in the bicameral conference on the budget has sent to its counterpart in the House of Representatives. The STAR has obtained a copy of the summary.
Senators realign P206 billion in 2020 budget
Jess Diaz (The Philippine Star) - December 4, 2019 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — Senators have realigned a total of P206.2 billion to their projects, programs and advocacies in their version of the proposed P4.1-trillion national budget for next year.

The realignments are reflected in a nine-page summary the Senate contingent in the bicameral conference on the budget has sent to its counterpart in the House of Representatives. The STAR has obtained a copy of the summary.

Also transmitted to the House was a two-inch-thick list of the hundreds of changes made. Congressmen described the listing as “vague and lacks transparency, contrary to what the Senate has promised.” They are now tracing where specifically senators have diverted the P206.2 billion and where they took the funds.

By tradition, any realignment, augmentation or diversion is classified as a pork barrel fund belonging to its lawmaker-proponent. Since last year, some of these adjustments have been described as “institutional amendments.”

According to Albay Rep. Joey Salceda, a member of the House contingent in the budget conference, senators funded their projects by making “dagdag-bawas” in the proposed 2020 outlay.

Though Senate President Vicente Sotto III and finance committee chairman Sen. Juan Edgardo Angara have brushed aside Salceda’s accusation, it is evident in the nine-page summary that senators wielded their dagdag-bawas (add-cut) knife across the proposed budget. 

They reduced appropriations to finance their projects in the same agencies. In some cases, they increased agency funding by cutting other appropriations.

For instance, in the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH), for which the House approved P529.7 billion for next year, the Senate first took away P28.1 billion from various projects before adding P34.9 billion, for a net addition of P6.8 billion, increasing the agency’s funding to P536.5 billion.

The House contingent in the budget talks is verifying which infrastructure projects suffered reductions of P28.1 billion, and what roads, bridges and the like senators have funded with the almost P35-billion realignment in the same department.

Congressmen also want to know whether the senators’ projects have been vetted by the DPWH and are part of its priorities. For the Department of National Defense, including the Armed Forces of the Philippines, the House had approved P189.7 billion. In its version of the budget, the Senate first cut P16.6 billion before restoring the same amount and then adding P2 billion for their chosen projects or programs.

In the Department of Education, senators initially removed P11.3 billion, after which they added P12.8 billion, for a net addition of P1.5 billion. 

In the Department of Agriculture (DA), the Senate cut P2.8 billion before adding P6.9 billion, for a net addition of P4.1 billion, increasing its budget to P59.1 billion. 

The National Food Authority (NFA), which is under the DA, suffered a P3-billion reduction in its P10-billion palay procurement fund.

Sotto and Angara have said finance subcommittee chairperson Sen. Cynthia Villar transferred the P3 billion to the Land Bank, which would make the money available to the NFA as a loan.

Villar said the funding was meant to provide cash assistance to rice farmers.

She described as “fake news” Salceda’s allegations that the Senate cut P3 billion for the NFA’s procurement of palay to help farmers cope with the impact of the Rice Tariffication Law.

“We’re giving out cash assistance to our farmers through the DA, so we don’t have to buy rice, but give out cash assistance straight to them,” she said.

The Department of Health received one of the biggest augmentations. Some P513.7 million was cut before P12 billion was added, for a net addition of P11.6 billion, which increased the agency’s funding to P100.5 billion. 

The Senate padded the budget of the Department of Information and Communications Technology from P3.7 billion to P8.4 billion. The P4.7-billion adjustment is bigger than the original appropriation. Former senator Gregorio Honasan heads the DICT.                 

In the case of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, one of the offices that suffered net reductions, senators initially removed P2.7 billion before returning P1.7 billion.

The Department of Transportation (DOTr) had the biggest cut of P25.7 billion. The Senate shaved P31.1 billion from the agency’s P146-billion outlay for next year before restoring P5.4 billion, effectively reducing its budget to P120.3 billion

            Aside from certain agencies like the DOTr, senators slashed some special purpose funds to finance their projects, such as the P190.2-billion pension and gratuity fund, from which they took away P39.5 billion.

            Congressmen urged the Senate to publish a detailed list of realignments, together with their authors or proponents, for the sake of transparency.  – With Paolo Romero

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