Senator Panfilo M. Lacson wants to slash P63 billion from the budgets of three government agencies to realign them to local government units hardest hit by recent typhoons, and to ensure the P4.5-trillion 2021 national budget bill “is responsive to the times.”
Lacson said Wednesday his proposed amendments include augmenting the budgets to ensure health, development, and economic recovery in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.
Also, the senator said he is open to passing a special budget or special law like the Bayanihan to Heal as One Act to allow President Rodrigo Duterte to realign funds to buy COVID-19 vaccines.
“I want the budget to be responsive to the times. I want it to be responsive to the budget philosophy of ‘Reset, Rebound, Recover,’” Lacson said.
“First things first. We should first address the pandemic and its effects: Health issues, development, recovery of the economy. Those are what we need to address in the 2021 budget,” he added.
Among Lacson’s proposed amendments are:
• Deleting P63 billion from the budgets of the Department of Public Works and Highways, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources’ National Greening Program, and National Irrigation Administration, including at least P60 billion from the DPWH for multi-purpose buildings except those to be used as evacuation and quarantine facilities, as well as double appropriations, right-of-way payments and also overlapping projects; and some P500 million from the NIA.
Lacson proposed that the amount be realigned to other agencies and programs including:
• At least P20 billion for local government units in areas hit hard by recent typhoons, via the Assistance to Local Government Units-Local Government Support Fund (ALGU-LGSF). This includes assistance for evacuation centers and quarantine facilities, for livelihood, and for reconstruction.
• At least P12 billion for the Department of Information and Communications Technology, to at least start its P18-billion national broadband program, which will end the government’s reliance on private telcos for the internet, and result in P34 billion in savings in five years; and free Wi-Fi program.
• Additional budget for the flexible learning options of the Department of Education.
• Augmentation of at least P8 billion more for the Department of Health to implement the Universal Health Care program via the Health Facilities Enhancement Program (HFEP), which needs at least P13 billion.
Meanwhile, Lacson clarified the P16.4 billion fund for the government’s anti-insurgency program will be needed for development projects, particularly in barangays cleared of insurgency activities.
“What will happen to those communities affected by conflict, if we will just abandon them without developing them? The people there will be open to recruitment by the NPAs (communist rebels) again. So that is the wisdom I see on why we should retain the P16.4 billion... It’s not about combat operations,” he said, adding it is the Interior Department that will vet the items to be funded.
He added that most senators favor retaining the amount.
Lacson also said that while he initially planned to have President Rodrigo Duterte’s confidential and intelligence funds reduced for 2021, he decided not to after learning from the police, military, and intelligence community that the President “would always augment whatever intelligence funds they would need to accomplish their mission.”
In an interview on the ANC news channel, Lacson said the change in House leadership has affected how the infrastructure budget has been distributed among congressional districts.
He said there was a noticeable increase in the districts of those who are close to the new speaker, and a decrease in the allocations for districts led by people who were close to the former speaker.
“So, what else can you conclude?” Lacson said.
He said the jurisdiction of Camarines Sur Rep. Lray Villafuerte was among those that received cuts even though it was severely affected by recent typhoons.
But allies of Speaker Lord Allan Velasco on Wednesday defended the 2021 General Appropriations Bill (GAB) that the House of Representatives approved on final reading last month and transmitted to the Senate.
Deputy Speaker and Buhay Rep. Lito Atienza said “as far as we’re concerned, we don’t see anything irregular or negative [about] it.”
Atienza also said the House leadership under Velasco passed a budget measure that is “legal” and “aboveboard.”
But he was quick to say that the House-approved 2021 “was largely untouched” and that the Velasco leadership merely adopted what was approved by the previous House leadership.
Albay Rep. Joey Salceda said the budget transmitted by Congress was essential “the President’s budget.”
“The House members knew for fact that what we have approved was essentially a pandemic recovery budget,” said Salceda.