Lacson questions fund cut for national projects
Sen. Panfilo Lacson yesterday said he has identified a total of P70 billion in the budget allocated for “multi-purpose buildings” across the country.
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Lacson questions fund cut for national projects

Paolo Romero (The Philippine Star) - October 15, 2020 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — Sen. Panfilo Lacson questioned the move of the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) to cut the funding for vital national projects while increasing allocations for local projects that were apparently pushed by congressmen.

Lacson yesterday said he has identified a total of P70 billion in the budget allocated for “multi-purpose buildings” across the country.

“What I noticed as a pattern – that’s why I ask if there were some interventions from some legislators – in general, we saw the local projects balloon and what was reduced was the national projects,” Lacson told Public Works Secretary Mark Villar at the hearing on the proposed P666.4-billion budget of the DPWH for 2021.

The senator said the changes to the DPWH budget, submitted shortly before the Department of Budget and Management proposed the 2021 national budget to Congress last August, “mangled” the agency’s original proposal “beyond recognition.”

Senators also called on the DPWH to use local materials in government’s infrastructure projects to enable Filipino manufacturers to get back on their feet amid the coronavirus pandemic.

“To help boost the industry, can we have the secretary’s commitment to make it a policy to give preference to local raw materials or materials with high local content in our flagship projects so that our local manufacturers will be able to rebound, given the contraction of the economy,” Sen. Francis Pangilinan said.

He added the government would extend immediate and needed assistance to the manufacturing sector, which he said was one of the industries badly hit by the pandemic.

“The DPWH, with its resources at its disposal, should also put emphasis on local manufacturers and local materials,” he said.

While the preference for local products in government projects is already included in Bayanihan 2 and Presidential Decree 1592, Pangilinan said it would be best to include a provision emphasizing the preference for local materials and supplies in infrastructure projects in the 2021 budget.

Sen. Sonny Angara, chair of the committee on finance and an advocate of “buy local” through his “Tatak Pinoy” program, backed Pangilinan’s proposal.

‘Limit entry of foreign workers’

Meanwhile, the government is making sure to limit the entry of foreign workers in infrastructure projects in the country to protect local employment, especially with the rising joblessness due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Villar said.

Sens. Nancy Binay, Joel Villanueva and Pangilinan questioned the presence of Chinese workers, including those doing manual labor, in various projects in the country amid Beijing’s continued encroachment in the West Philippine Sea.

Senate Majority Leader Juan Miguel Zubiri also asked Villar to study a Supreme Court ruling that local companies fear would be interpreted as allowing foreign companies to undertake even small and local infrastructure projects.

The public works chief said the deployment of Chinese workers is not a condition imposed by Beijing in projects it is financing.

“A lot of these new projects, they do come with new technologies and it will require some specialization. Therefore, sometimes, in some of our projects, you see some level of foreign workers, not necessarily Chinese,” Villar told the panel chaired by Angara via video conference.

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