House Majority Leader and Camarines Sur Rep. Rolando Andaya on Sunday assured Senator Panfilo Lacson that Congressmen are united behind Speaker Gloria Macapagal Arroyo’s directive to strictly comply with the Supreme Court ruling against pork barrel in the 2019 national budget.
He said Congress would continue to adopt the constitutionally compliant line budgeting system to ensure a pork-free 2019 national, deliberations of which will resume on Aug. 28.
“Not only the House of Representatives. Remember, it is the bicameral [committee to approve the budget]. The Senate [is involved here], too. Those who would push for projects in their [areas] would eventually be exposed. I don’t think that only the congressmen do [propose projects], but also the senators do that,” he said on a radio talk show on GMA-7.
Lacson earlier raised concerns that billions of pesos in Priority Development Assistance Fund or pork barrel could be inserted in the 2019 National Expenditure Program.
Andaya said the House would not ignore the November 2013 ruling declaring pork barrel unconstitutional, and only allowed line budgeting for the NEP.
we are following is the same one that the Department of Budget and Management does, in accordance with the Supreme Court ruling,” Andaya said in Filipino. “I don’t know interpretation Senator Lacson is using on this issue.”
Andaya said Congress may adopt a hybrid system combining cash-based and obligation-based systems, following a meeting between President Rodrigo Duterte and Arroyo a week ago.
The cash-based budgeting system limits appropriations, bidding, completion of projects and payments within a single year and the first three months of the following year.
Under the present obligation-based budgeting, the government can spread out the appropriations across two years or more to enable the completion of projects.
Andaya said they have agreed that budgetary cuts agreed to by the previous speaker would be restored to allow the validity of some payments to one year plus six months or the first half of the following year.
Also on Sunday, Senator Sherwin Gatchalian called on President Duterte to certify as urgent three bills that he filed to ensure that public works projects are started and completed within the calendar year.
“In light of the new cash-based budgeting system for 2019, there is now an even more urgent need to foster true competition in government public works projects by liberalizing the entry of foreign contractors into the industry,” Gatchalian said.
Gatchalian recently filed three bills which respectively aim to lift investment restrictions that prevent foreign contractors from bidding on government public works projects (Senate Bill No. 1907), remove the nationality requirement in the granting of licenses for contractors in construction (SB 1909), and dismantle the domestic preference policy of the Government Procurement Reform Act (GPRA) to encourage the entry of foreign suppliers (SB 1921).
“One of the main causes of delays in construction and other public works projects is the lack of contractors and suppliers,” said Gatchalian.
Lifting restrictions and providing a more level playing field in public works projects, he believes will encourage the entry of foreign players, which in turn will enable the government to deliver on its much-needed infrastructure initiatives,” Gatchalian said.
“For projects to be completed in a shorter period of time, we need simultaneous construction to happen. And for that to happen, we need to have foreign contractors who can also participate in government projects,” he added.
Gatchalian expressed particular concern with the Commission on Higher Education’s capital outlay for infrastructure, which was drastically slashed from P48 million in 2018 to a meager P6.9 million next year because of the new cash-based system.
“Thirty-five of our state universities did not get infrastructure funding because of the new cash-based system, meaning these universities have no funds to build new classrooms or buildings. This is unacceptable,” he said.
The lawmaker, however, clarified that he is in favor of the cash-based system as “it will instill discipline among agencies” and curb underspending.
“I am for a cash-based system. I see the logic of a cash-based system because this is meant to really solve underspending by speeding up spending on government projects,” he said.
“If you look at the utilization of of most agencies, only 60 percent to 70 percent of their annual budgets are utilized,” he added.