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Cryptic titles like ‘bat cave’ used in DPWH budget program

A party-list lawmaker on Thursday questioned the Department of Public Works and Highways for utilizing some P10.33 billion in ‘contingent funds’ for the construction of sports facilities and certain amenities, including a ‘bat cave’ amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

During the House committee on appropriations’ hearing on the proposed P686.11 billion budget of the DPWH for 2022, Rep. Ferdinande Gaite of Bayan Muna asked DPWH Secretary Mark Villar about the supposed P10.33 billion transferred to the DPWH from its “contingent fund” in 2020.

The DBM defines contingent fund as “an appropriation under the Office of the President to cover funding requirement of new or urgent projects and activities of national government and government-owned corporations that need to be implemented or paid during the year, such as, but not limited to legal obligations of the government arising from final and executory decisions, requirements of newly created offices, or deficiencies in the appropriations for local and external travels of the President of the Philippines.”

Gaite said that “based on the listings of the projects, apparently there were sports facilities, swimming pools, cruise sport, convention center, museum, and I do not know what this is, a ‘bat cave,’ were the products of the P10.3 billion.” 

But Villar was clueless on Gaite’s revelation by saying that his agency would provide the legislator a list of the projects which utilized the contingent fund. 

“These are some titles that are not clear, what you’re saying, but we can send you a list then you can confirm the projects you are mentioning,” Villar said.

But Gaite was not satisfied with Villar’s explanation, insisting that he did not see any urgency for such projects  in this time of pandemic.

Villar implied that the on-going infrastructure projects being implemented by the DPWH-- which he said “is ranging from tourism to assisting our soldiers in their infrastructure needs” -- is not an issue whether it is pandemic or not; but for as long as these are able to generate jobs.

“I stand by our infrastructure program. In the end, what is important is that we can generate jobs,” the Cabinet official said.

He also justified the necessity to implement the alleged questionable infrastructure projects as he said the DPWH received a special allotment release order (SARO) from the the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) and “we implement it from the contingent fund.”

In a related development, the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) on Thursday said the agency was facing a hard time “securing the full cooperation of law enforcement institutions,” and that the limited number of its investigators has affected the agency’s handling of cases.

During the budget hearing,  CHR chairman Chito Gascon said his agency “found difficulty in recent years in terms of securing the full cooperation of law enforcement institutions, particularly the Philippine National Police.”

Gascon added: “We have little over a hundred investigators that need to investigate the cases involving the police, which is over 200,000 around the country, involving the Armed Forces.”

As of July 31, the CHR has 672 filled-up and 172 vacant positions in its central and regional offices. The agency currently has 151 investigators and is looking to hire 52 more.

Topics: Department of Public Works and Highways , COVID-19 pandemic , ‘contingent funds’
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