They’ll plunder P532 B even during pandemic
GOTCHA - Jarius Bondoc (The Philippine Star) - October 28, 2020 - 12:00am

At least P532.3 billion in the 2021 national budget is plunderable. Lawmakers and bureaucrats can connive to pocket it, in part or in full. Proceeds will be handy for the election period, which starts in October.

The P532.3 billion is people’s money. It will be easy to steal it as we reel from the COVID-19 crisis. With no fear of God’s wrath, the plunderers are confident to survive the pandemic and enjoy the loot.

The amount consists of lump sums and rehashed items from this year’s public works program. Both are illegal.

Lump sums, being budget items that are not “textualized,” break “the prescribed procedure of presentment,” the Supreme Court ruled in 2013. Parceled out to congressional districts, they become unlawful “personal discretionary funds” of lawmakers and agency officials.

The Constitution – Article VI, Legislature, Section 25 (5) – forbids rehashes. Budgets of agencies may be augmented only from savings. Such savings, defined in yearly budget laws, come from projects that are discontinued, abandoned or completed cheaper than planned. The 2021 re-appropriations are not from savings.

Congressmen notoriously take kickbacks from public works. In cahoots with district engineers they award projects to select contractors. It becomes possible because congressmen lobby for the designation of their chosen district engineers, and the contractors are their kin.

Kickbacks range from 10 to 55 percent of the project cost. Labor and materials ultimately suffer. All over the land are rutty roads paved substandard only months prior, lamented Sen. Panfilo Lacson.

The dirty money is used for equally dirty elections. Plunderous congressmen are reelected, again to plunder, in vicious cycle. No one is jailed except fall guys, like what happened after the pork barrel exposés in 2013.

Lacson unearthed the irregular budget items under the Dept. of Public Works and Highways. Lump sums add up to over P396.4 billion in capital outlays; plus more than P135.8 billion in 5,913 rehashed infrastructure projects.

The total P532.3 billion is 87 percent of DPWH’s 2021 budget of P613.7 billion. “Patently illegal,” Lacson remarked about the items.

DPWH is ridden with corruption and no construction commences without money changing hands, President Duterte said last week. “Projects, project engineers, road rights-of-way, all of that, the corruption there is grave. No construction begins without a transaction,” he said on national TV.

Congressmen conspire with DPWH personnel and private contractors. The Presidential Anti-Corruption Commission confirmed. Commissioner Greco Belgica gave the ombudsman dossiers this week.

It’s been going on for decades. In 1996 Senate President Ernesto Maceda branded DPWH “the flagship of corruption.” Even in pre-martial law days, presidents used lump sums and pork barrels for transactional politics with lawmakers and partymates.

Lacson grilled Dept. of Budget and Management bigwigs about the questionable P532.3 billion. They alibied at Senate budget hearings that DPWH submitted its budget late, thus the lump sums. DPWH officials in turn claimed that DBM told them of the July 17 deadline only on July 16. Lame excuses. The budget process starts as early as March each year, Lacson said.

It turned out that congressmen caused the delay. Quoting sources, Lacson said they took till Sept. 7 to finish filling up the lump sums with plunderable projects in congressional districts.

“The rehashed items for 2021 are incredible,” Lacson added. They consist of 2020 road and bridgeworks with the same sectioning; that is, same length, width, depth and materials. Yet the 2021 reallocations are fractions of the originals for 2020. DBM claimed it’s because the 2020 funds were “borrowed” for pandemic emergency spending under Bayanihan Acts 1 and 2. “Impossible,” Lacson said. Those 2020 projects are under contract; contractors would have sued the DBM for fund diversion and non-payment of completed works.

“The rehashing was a consequence of the congressmen’s meddling that delayed the DPWH budget submission,” noted Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon. They were pressed for time to meet the constitutional deadline to submit the budget within 30 days after the President’s State of the Nation. So they just copied the 2020 budget.

That involved the previous leadership faction at the House of Reps. The present leaders, only two weeks in power, presently are rushing to insert their own congressional pork barrels, Drilon said. That is yet another blatant violation of the Constitution and the Supreme Court ruling. The Charter forbids budget amendments after the second reading. In illegalizing pork barrels, the SC included congressmen’s insertions after the passage of the budget.

“Legislators make the laws; Executive officials enforce it. But every budget year congressmen and bureaucrats collude to break the law,” Lacson said.

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Catch Sapol radio show, Saturdays, 8 to 10 a.m., dwIZ (882-AM).

My book “Exposés: Investigative Reporting for Clean Government” is available on Amazon:

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