Lacson: Realign P68 billion 'skeleton' infra projects to nat'l broadband, evacuation centers

Lacson: Realign P68 billion 'skeleton' infra projects to nat'l broadband, evacuation centers
Sen. Panfilo Lacson, during the hybrid plenary deliberation Wednesday, November 11, 2020, on the proposed P4.506 trillion national budget for next year, stresses the need to redirect the budget to conform with the signs of the times. He also asked the committee to scrutinize the 2021 General Appropriations Bill (GAB) against the budget philosophies of reset, rebound and recover after illustrating how public funds are wasted in what he calls are skeleton infrastructure projects.
Senate PRIB / Albert Calvelo

MANILA, Philippines — Sen. Ping Lacson on Wednesday said his team found close to 6,000 "rehashed" infrastructure projects in the proposed 2021 national budget worth P135 billion. 

On the first day of floor deliberations for the proposed P4.5 trillion 2021 budget, Lacson flagged in particular P68 billion worth of what he called skeleton projects — or structures which remain "skeletons" despite being funded by the millions in previous years — in the form of multi-purpose buildings (MPBs). 

Instead of funding these so-called skeleton projects, Lacson suggested that the government instead redirect funds to more deserving budget items such as the National Broadband Program, evacuation centers and quarantine facilities. 

As he interpolated on the national budget for 2021, Lacson listed several MPBs which his team identified as skeleton projects. 

Among the infrastructure projects flagged by Lacson is an MPB in Barangay Sapilang, Bacnotan, La Union, which received P15.6M funding in 2017, 2019 and 2020. Under the proposed budget for 2021, it is set to receive another P5 million. 

Another project mentioned is the rehabilitation of an MPB in Linomot Elementary School in Brgy. Linomot, Jones, Isabela which has already received a total P21 million in public funds. An additional P2 million is proposed for the project in 2021, Lacson said. 

"Maybe at the proper time, if our colleagues will agree, we just delete the proposed appropriations of P68 billion for such MPBs; others may be able to realign an additional P2.7B to be used as evacuation centers or quarantine facilities to make it more useful and responsive to the theme of the 2021 [General Appropriations Act]," Lacson said partially in Filipino. 

'All-out' campaign vs. corruption, Duterte promises 

President Rodrigo Duterte himself last week called out officials from the Department of Public Works and Highways for using "ghost" projects as a racket. 

"The most common way there is through ghost projects. Many of that are under regional directors. They'll say they have projects but will have no implementation," Duterte said in Filipino during a televised address, referring to corrupt practices at the DPWH. 

The following day, Lacson responded on Twitter: "The President says he hates 'ghost' projects. 'Skeleton' projects couldn’t be any better. Will show some when I interpolate on the 2021 national budget." 

"We’d love to see those responsible hanging upside down from concrete posts that serve no purpose except to waste public funds," he added. 

Duterte's refusal to fire higher-ranking appointees, however, has cast a cloud of suspicion over this supposed "all-out" effort against corruption, as presidential appointees such as Public Works Secretary Mark Villar, Health Secretary Francisco Duque III, and Immigration Commissioner Jaime Morente remain virtually cleared despite the allegations of graft in their agencies. 

Lacson himself last month urged Duterte to exercise "strong political will" and consistently apply "anti-graft and corruption laws to both friends and foes." — Bella Perez-Rubio 

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