Budget gambit
COMMONSENSE - Marichu A. Villanueva (The Philippine Star) - June 12, 2019 - 12:00am

For the past several weeks now, we are being bombarded by the annual audit reports on various government agencies that went through the scrutiny of state auditors. An independent constitutional body, the Commission on Audit (COA) is mandated to conduct this annual auditing of how each government agencies and other instrumentalities made use of state funds.

As the designated vanguard of state coffers, the COA findings of its annual audit review, in fact, serve as the lead document of investigators going after shenanigans of corrupt and erring government officials and employees. Thus, the annual report of COA review of each state agencies including government-owned and controlled corporations (GOCCs), and government financial institutions (GFIs) serves as evidence of any irregularity, graft and corruption cases.

Before President Duterte went to Japan on official trip last May 28 to 31, the COA released its report about unutilized foreign and local donations at the Office of Civil Defense (OCD). In their findings, the state auditors called out the attention of the OCD over its failure to utilize a combined total of P77.887 million of local and foreign funding donations intended for victims of super typhoon Yolanda and the Marawi siege that wrought havoc to our own people in these disaster-stricken places.

The COA’s annual review covered amounts spent by the OCD as of Dec. 31, 2018. Upon audit of the OCD, the COA discovered only P94.645 million was utilized out of P135,391,701.96 donations it received from local and foreign sources all intended for the Yolanda victims.

Six years after the super typhoon, known by its international name Haiyan, the COA noted the unused foreign and local donations for Yolanda disaster gained on foreign exchange revaluation amounting to P5.648 million. Thus, the total balance of “unused” Yolanda funds were actually much higher at P46.674 million.

Yolanda left devastation on several provinces it crossed on Nov. 8, 2013. According to official Philippine government data, Yolanda displaced a total of four million people while the official death toll reached 6,100; those injured stood at 28,860; and 1,061 people are still missing. All through these years, these donations have not been utilized, COA noted with concern.

“The poor utilization of the donated funds defeated the purpose of donation and that the good intention of the donors for human consideration was not fully served,” the COA pointed out.

One of the worst damaged provinces during the onslaught of Yolanda was the province of Leyte, the home province of the family of former First Lady Imelda Romualdez Marcos. It was this connection with the past that became an issue when former president PNoy went to inspect the Yolanda devastation with several of his Cabinet members led by ex-Interior Secretary Mar Roxas II to meet with local government officials that included Tacloban City Mayor Alfred Romualdez. During that meeting, Roxas supposedly told Romualdez: “You are a Romualdez, the president is an Aquino.”

Fast forward. Three years after the administration of PNoy ended, the rehabilitation of Yolanda-devastated government buildings and facilities in Leyte remain incomplete, if not, unattended up to now.

This we learned from comebacking Leyte Congressman Martin Romualdez who was our featured guest in our Kapihan sa Manila Bay last May 22. One of these Yolanda rehabilitation projects that never took off, Romualdez cited, is the Tacloban airport named after their late uncle Speaker Daniel Romualdez. Nearly wiped out by the super typhoon, the Tacloban airport was repaired and restored to normal operations since then. Romualdez, however, pointed out that the Yolanda Rehabilitation Task Force headed by Sen. Panfilo Lacson included Tacloban airport as among the priority projects of the government for modernization at the same time.

According to Romualdez, the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) during the PNoy administration supposedly allocated P800 million to undertake the Tacloban airport rehabilitation project. But as it turned out, Romualdez recalled, the P800-million allocation was sourced from “savings” that were re-aligned by PNoy and the DBM from various budgets of government agencies under the controversial Development Acceleration Program (DAP). In July 2014, the Supreme Court (SC) justices voted unanimously declaring DAP as unconstitutional. The ruling was penned by now Chief Justice Lucas P. Bersamin.

During our Kapihan sa Manila Bay, Romualdez announced his intention of reviving the government’s rehabilitation of the Tacloban airport as a priority bill he would file as soon as the 18th Congress starts its first regular sessions on July 22.

How to finally get the Tacloban airport project going? Romualdez disclosed he would author an administration bill for President Duterte to ask for a supplemental budget that will include the Tacloban airport rehabilitation project.

The proposed supplemental budget for 2019 would likely be worth about P95 billion.

This represents the amount of government infrastructure projects nationwide that suffered cuts when President Duterte vetoed the congressional insertions identified by their Senate counterparts that delayed the approval into law the 2019 budget.

Romualdez who is taking over the congressional district from his wife, outgoing Congresswoman Yedda, believes he would be able to gather support on this proposed supplemental budget for President Duterte. After all, he is one of the two Congressmen touted to become the next Speaker of the House.

Currently the president of the Lakas-CMD, Romualdez vows to bring in leadership that would support the legislative agenda of President Duterte. So perhaps this should explain why Romualdez was visibly present and behind President Duterte when the Chief Executive went to the Ninoy Aquino International Airport Terminal-2 on a surprise inspection visit dawn of Monday.  

Pushing for supplemental budget for the President and his fellow congressmen, Romualdez is hitting two birds with one stone. Will his gambit pay off? 

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