ENVIRONMENT SECRETARY Roy A. Cimatu has asked the budget department for an additional P4.65 billion to buy new dredging equipment to be used in removing sandbars from the Bicol and Cagayan River basins.

Some P1.45 billion will support operations in the Bicol River basin and P3.2 billion will fund activities in the Cagayan River basin.

In a statement Thursday, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) said Mr. Cimatu is pushing for the early removal of sandbars from the Bicol River between 2023 and 2025, and from the Cagayan River between 2025 and 2028.

He said that while priority funding should be allotted for initiatives focusing on the public health emergency, “priority should likewise be given to equally important efforts on climate change and disaster mitigation programs meant to assure the country of its food security and prevent, or at least minimize loss of precious infrastructure due to flooding.”

“If we invest now, the best (case scenario) is to have these pieces of equipment this year,” he added.

At present, the DENR is using the dredging equipment of the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) for both river basins.

The DPWH and DENR are both part of the Task Force Build Back Better (TF BBB) which is in charge of restoring the river basins in Cagayan, Bicol, and Marikina.

According to Mr. Cimatu who also chairs the TF BBB, the group’s achievements are “proof” that the government can finish the project faster and at less cost than private contractors.

The Department of Budget and Management (DBM) confirmed that it has received the DENR’s request for additional funding.

“The request was referred to the DPWH for possible accommodation in the available funds of DPWH,” DBM Spokesperson Rolando U. Toledo told BusinessWorld. — Angelica Y. Yang