Lawmakers realign P527 billion in 2020 budget

Jess Diaz - The Philippine Star
Lawmakers realign P527 billion in 2020 budget
Sen. Panfilo Lacson has vowed to inform President Duterte which realignments are pork barrel funds, hoping the Chief Executive would veto or delete them from the budget.
Geremy Pintolo / File

MANILA, Philippines — The two chambers of Congress have realigned a total of almost P527 billion in their common version of the proposed P4.1-trillion national budget for next year.

As expected, the bulk of the realignments, or P318.4 billion or more than 60 percent, was made in the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH).

The changes are reflected in the 220-page report of the conference committee that reconciled the divergent budget versions the House of Representatives and the Senate had approved.

Sen. Panfilo Lacson has vowed to inform President Duterte which realignments are pork barrel funds, hoping the Chief Executive would veto or delete them from the budget.

Asked to comment on Lacson’s statement, Davao City Rep. Isidro Ungab, who chairs the House appropriations committee, said the President “can very well identify pork allotments in the budget, if there are any.”

“I had worked with him for a long time. He was the city mayor when I was chairman of the city council’s appropriations committee. He had consistently reminded us to ‘prepare a budget for the poor because the rich can take care of themselves’,” he said.

He said if Duterte vetoes any appropriation in the 2020 budget, it would “be based on whether a particular item will truly benefit our poor countrymen.”

The thick conference committee report reflects the reductions and additions lawmakers made in the appropriations of agencies to fund their projects, together with the net change, if any, and the resulting totals. The exercise is what Albay Rep. Joey Salceda has called “dagdag-bawas (add-cut).”

Congress does a zero-sum juggling process because it cannot increase the budget ceiling proposed by the President. This means that what is added to one agency, appropriation or project/program is taken from another office, funding item or project.

The total realignments agreed in the budget conference are more than twice the P206 billion the Senate had juggled in its version of the proposed budget and the P9.5 billion realigned by the House.

The conference committee report shows that lawmakers first cut the DPWH budget by P267.3 billion before restoring the same amount and adding P51.1 billion, increasing the agency’s funding for next year to P581 billion.

Like the DPWH and most departments, the DepEd went through “dagdag-bawas,” with Congress taking away P14.8 billion before adding P16.5 billion, for a net addition of P1.7 billion, which is just a fraction of what was added to the DPWH. DepEd ended up with P521.4 billion for 2020.

In the Department of Agriculture, P8.9 billion was cut and P16.2 billion was added, for a net addition of P7.4 billion, increasing its budget to P62.3 billion.

In the Department of National Defense, P16.8 billion was taken away before the same amount was restored and P2.1 billion was added, bringing the agency’s funding total to P191.7 billion.

The biggest realignment of more than P16 billion in the defense outlay was made in the Philippine Navy. It is not clear what this was.

The Department of Health is another recipient of a net augmentation amounting to P12.1 billion, increasing its budget to P101 billion. Another is the Department of Information and Communications Technology, whose budget was padded by P6.2 billion, from P3.7 billion to almost P10 billion.

The other departments and agencies that received net increases include interior and local government, P2.6 billion; social welfare and development, P5.5 billion; trade and industry, P3.3 billion; labor and employment, P3 billion; Commission on Higher Education, P7.1 billion; and Technical Education and Skills Development Authority, P1.1 billion.

Only two departments suffered net reductions: Department of Transportation (DOTr), whose funding was cut by P46.6 billion to P99.4 billion; and the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, whose budget was slashed by P500 million to P25.5 billion.

It is not clear why P46.6 billion was taken away from the DOTr, one of the implementers of the Duterte administration’s Build Build Build program.

It is these reductions that partly funded the augmentations lawmakers gave to the DPWH and other departments. Aside from these cuts, Congress also took away P74 billion from the pension and gratuity fund and P6.8 billion from the miscellaneous personnel benefits fund.

In the National Irrigation Administration (NIA), P9.5 billion was cut before the same amount was returned. This means that irrigation projects worth P9.5 billion were removed or their funding was reduced, after which the same amount was added for projects identified by lawmakers. The cut-add exercise did not affect NIA’s total funding of P36.3 billion.

Upon the initiative of the Senate, lawmakers also relegated P37 billion worth of appropriations to the unfunded part of the budget, which could be used only in case of excess revenues, freeing up the same amount for their own projects.





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