Senator Ping Lacson. INQUIRER file photo / EDWIN BACASMAS
MANILA, Philippines — Sen. Panfilo “Ping” Lacson on Sunday flagged for being “quite irregular” the inclusion of P8.2 billion for various military infrastructure programs in the proposed budget of the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) for 2021.
Lacson, who had earlier uncovered hundreds of billions of pesos in questionable entries in next year’s national spending measure, said he would ask for an explanation for the budget items during the hearing in the Senate on the proposed budgets of the Department of National Defense (DND) and the DPWH this week.
“[These are] combination[s] of all infrastructure [projects] like improvement of camps, roads, buildings, etc.,” he told the Inquirer in a Viber message.
Asked if placing funds for the military’s construction projects in the DPWH budget was unusual, he replied: “[It’s] not unusual, although [it’s] quite irregular for [having] the same item under two agencies simply because of the confusion it creates.”
Lacson said similar incidents had happened before where public funds earmarked for new school buildings were placed in the budgets of the DPWH and the Department of Education.
“I had questioned it because it’s confusing only to be told, although off the record, that allocations for school building repairs and construction were insertions made by some legislators, both congressmen and some senators,” Lacson said.
“I can only venture an explanation: It’s contractor-driven,” he added, hinting that the lawmakers may have received kickbacks from the private contractors of the projects.
According to Lacson, the budget for the military infrastructure projects was included in the P396 billion worth of projects that were lodged as lump-sum appropriations in the DPWH central office.
He, however, said it was not considered “double appropriation” like what happened to many DPWH projects that had been allotted fresh funds for next year after being included in the 2020 General Appropriations Act for implementation.
Since it was a lump-sum allocation, he said, the infrastructure budget for the Armed Forces of the Philippines does not contain specific details on how it will be spent, making it prone to corruption, as noted by the Supreme Court when it declared such budgetary system unconstitutional in 2015.
Lacson said the budget entry for the military-related construction projects was initially set at P7 billion, but it ballooned to nearly P8.2 billion when the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) submitted an updated list.
“But the problem is, it did not have items,” he said, referring to specific details such as location of the projects, their specific costs and date of completion.
“That’s why the budget of the DPWH has become really big,” he said in a radio interview earlier on Sunday.
As he had earlier pointed out, he said, the lump-sum allocations in the proposed DPWH budget went up significantly when it failed to submit the final budget request before the DBM presented the National Expenditure Program to Congress on Aug. 25.
“I also want to know the reason why [the DPWH] was late in the submission … It seems that some congressmen were coordinating with the DPWH on what should be included in their list [of projects],” the senator said.
Lacson again surmised that the late submission of the DPWH budget proposal was “connected” with the squabble for the speakership in the House of Representatives.
“They (House members) themselves said there’s no equitable distribution of budget in the [congressional] districts,” he said.
Lacson had claimed that certain representatives were “haggling” with the DPWH to “preinsert or embed” in the national spending measure their chosen infrastructure projects purportedly to “avoid being detected during deliberations in Congress, especially in the Senate.”
‘List of approved projects’
Sought for comment, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana told the Inquirer on Sunday that his department does not know which military infrastructure projects are included in the P8.2 billion.
He said the DND submitted to the DPWH a list of 799 priority military infrastructure projects worth an estimated P28.7 billion.
“We as well have yet to receive the list of approved projects included in the P8.2 billion mentioned,” Lorenzana said.
“These projects are critical infrastructures inside our camps across the country that improve training capacity, storage, billeting, morale, work environment and other capacities that increase the readiness of our troops,” he added.
He said the projects were under the DND-DPWH convergence program “Tatag na Imprastraktura para sa Kapayapaan at Seguridad” or Tikas.
—With a report from Jeannette I. Andrade
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