SENATORS questioned on Monday the over P650 million in lump sum funds for “feasibility studies” for future projects of the Department of Public Works and Highways found in the said government agency’s proposed budget for 2017.
Senate President Pro Tempore Franklin Drilon found the lump sum similar to the Priority Development Assistance Fund, or the so-called pork barrel, that was prevalent during the Aquino administration which the Supreme Court had declared unconstitutional.
Drilon, who was presiding over the session, said there’s no specific project for which this money will be used and the projects constitute “post intervention” on the part of the DPWH secretary because he is empowered to identify projects which will be funded by the lump sum appropriation of P500 million.
“That’s precisely what the PDAF is all about and declared unconstitutional. Now if Congress, can’t do that, I don’t know why it can be done by a Cabinet member,” he added.
Drilon joined Senator Panfilo Lacson in questioning the fund, saying it was a lump sum fund “with no particular purpose.”
“You can’t use this for augmentation. Otherwise, we’ll have augmentation amounts all over the budget. That’s precisely what Senator Lacson is raising,” Drilon said.
Lacson noted that aside from the P5.9 billion for feasibility study, project development, preliminary and detailed engineering, the DPWH was proposing another P500 million and P150 million without any details and placed under the agency’s Central Office.
Senate President Koko Pimentel said the projects under the proposed P650 million should be itemized.
Senator Loren Legarda, who was defending the DPWH budget as chairman of the Senate committee on finance, said the P500 million was intended to “augment regional operations of the projects that have been allocated.”
“And they are assuring you that this will not be used for political accommodation,” Legarda said.
Legarda was referring to DPWH officials led by Secretary Mark Villar who helped her during the floor deliberations of the agency’s proposed budget next year.
But Lacson asked why there was a need to augment when there was already a planning division.
“If the projects are lacking, they have sources to augment. You can only augment from savings. How can you augment during the start of 2017, you have a ready augmentation, nobody has declared savings,” Lacson said.
At this point, Legarda said the P500 million would be a “standby” fund, which would be sub-alloted to the regions “for feasibility study of future projects.”
Lacson then suggested to just break down the allocation and explain its utilization so it would not be perceived as a lump-sum fund.
Legarda admitted that the P500 million was a lump sum but reiterated that it was for feasibility studies, engineering designs of the projects “which may ensue apart from the existing projects” in the regions.
“So after the budget is passed and becomes a General Appropriation Act, the secretary of public works under this set up is authorized to identify where this will be spent?” Drilon asked to which Legarda answered “yes.”
Legarda offered the same explanation for the P150-million fund lodged in the DPWH’s Central Office, saying it was a contingent fund.
Pimentel expressed alarm over reports that some DPWH district engineers and regional directors have allegedly started bidding out projects for 2017 when the GAA is still being deliberated in Congress.
“My office received information that the DPWH Regional or District offices have been conducting biddings of projects found in the 2017 General Appropriations Bill. I am worried because this not yet a law. This is just a bill we’re talking about right now,” said Pimentel.
Pimentel said it is both shameful and deplorable why they would already schedule the conduct of biddings for projects that are yet to be officially approved by Congress and signed by the President into law.
“What is now the legal basis for already bidding out projects anticipated to be part of a law, but not yet officially part of a law?” Pimentel asked.
“If given the chance, because now under interpellation ang DPWH budget, if given the chance and time permitting, I would like to raise this issue. And if that is the answer, that it has been the practice, I will ask for the legal basis of the practice. If we cannot find a legal basis, then we have to stop the practice,” also said Pimentel.
Asked on the danger of such practice, Pimentel said, “we are just reinforcing our concept of ‘rule of law’.
“How can you possibly bid a project right now, when there is still no law appropriating funds for that project? Because we all agree that there is no still law. There is a bill. A bill po iyan, a bill is not a law,” he added.