THE SENATE will move to delete the P75 billion added to the budget of the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) without its prior knowledge when the chamber reaches the period of amendments in its deliberations on the 2019 national budget.
Senator Panfilo M. Lacson on Monday questioned the move of the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) to provide a P555 billion budget to DPWH in the National Expenditure Program (NEP), which was later retained in the general appropriations bill (GAB), when it earlier provided a budget ceiling of only P480 billion to the department.
The issue was first raised in the House of Representatives in December. At the Senate, the chamber deliberated on the proposed P555.3 billion budget of the DPWH on Monday.
“There was an agreement between this representation and the distinguished sponsor and we need the comment of agency, the DPWH, that the P75 billion that they have admitted not knowing until it was included in the NEP be deleted at the proper time during the period of amendments. The DPWH family is amenable to such move?” Mr. Lacson asked.
Finance committee chair Senator Loren B. Legarda, speaking for DPWH Secretary Mark A. Villar, replied, “Yes. (Mr. Villar) already mentioned it to me.”
During the DPWH budget deliberations, Ms. Legarda said Mr. Villar was only made aware of the budget increase when the NEP was submitted to Congress. The DPWH then consulted with the DBM for details on the additional P75 billion allocation following the NEP submission, she added.
“How would they implement the P75 billion worth of projects if they did not know?” Mr. Lacson said.
Senate Minority Leader Franklin M. Drilon called the move an abuse of the executive branch’s discretion or prerogative to decide on its proposed national budget before its submission to Congress.
“The question being asked is how did this P75 billion come about when precisely the DPWH is in the dark as to how this came about? They have no idea what these projects are,” he said.
“In other words, there is an indication of abuse of that discretion because while indeed it’s the President’s budget, it is their prerogative but their prerogative cannot be exercised to the point of being arbitrary and that is what we see today,” he added.
In response, Ms. Legarda said the P75 billion added to the DPWH budget was part of the budgetary process.
“This is part of the budgetary process… if there’s fiscal space, it is the prerogative of DBM to increase the budget of an agency or to decrease it as it so desires,” she said.
The proposed 2019 national budget is currently in the period of interpellations in the Senate. Aside from the DPWH, the Senate still has to scrutinize the budget of nine government agencies before going to the period of amendments. — Camille A. Aguinaldo