DPWH budget cuts to spare ongoing projects

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THE bicameral conference committee on the 2018 national budget for 2018 will tackle the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) budget on Monday, Dec. 4, according to Sen. Loren B. Legarda, who chairs the Senate committee on finance.

“We will examine the DPWH budget tomorrow in a way that any cuts to be made will not involve ongoing projects,” Ms. Legarda said.

Sen. Panfilo M. Lacson, the committee’s vice-chairman, said in an interview after the first bicameral meeting last week that his proposed amendments to the 2018 budget involving cuts of over P68 billion from the DPWH’s budget, including an P18-billion “lump sum” that the department cannot disaggregate, and another P50.7 billion from projects that have right-of-way issues.

The Senate, during the period of amendments, accepted the P50.7-billion cut. During the interview, Mr. Lacson said the P18 billion can still be removed during the bicameral meeting if the DPWH fails to defend it.

The funds, according to Mr. Lacson, will be diverted to the “Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA), teacher’s chalk allowance, feeding programs, and the National ID System (once implemented) of the Philippine Statistics Authority.”

Meanwhile, Ms. Legarda said that the department’s funding largely covers current projects.

“Sen. Lacson has studied the budget to eliminate those with right-of-way issues,” Ms. Legarda said.

Ms. Legarda also said that the committee will restore the funding of those projects that are still ongoing in case they are covered by the 50-billion budget cut.

The senator also clarified that the intention is not to eliminate projects and that the Senate supports the infrastructure program of the administration.

“It is not our intention to remove any projects. We support  Build, Build, Build. But we know that each year there are budgeted funds that go unused, many of them due to right-of-way issues,” Ms. Legarda added.

In a chance interview last week, House appropriations committee chair Rep. Karlo Alexei B. Nograles said that the P50-billion budget cuts being considered are part of the government’s Build, Build, Build program.

“This is part of the Build, Build, Build program. If these funds are cut, does that mean they do not support the President’s Build, Build, Build program? Now they’re talking about TRAIN, the tax reform (legislation). Tax reform presumably is something that is being pursued by Congress to finance Build, Build, Build. So what are they trying to say? That they do not support the President’s program? Is that the message they want to send to Malacañang?” Mr. Nograles said. — Arjay L. Balinbin