As he prepares for the bicameral conference committee deliberations on the 2021 budget bill, Sen. Panfilo Lacson reiterated his call to fellow lawmakers for transparency as far as their amendments to the proposed budget are concerned.
Lacson said transparency, “particularly (regarding) our amendments in the 2021 budget bill,” should dispel suspicions of “compromises and personal interests in our proposed amendments.”
“If we have nothing to hide, we have to make our amendments public, as I have done in my case, so those amendments can be scrutinized by the media as well as the public. It is the mandate of Congress to make amendments to the budget bill; we cannot just adopt the National Expenditure Program en toto,” he said in an interview on DZRH radio Friday evening.
Citing figures from the summary of the Senate-approved version of the budget, Lacson said that while some P31 billion was deducted from the Department of Public Works and Highways’ proposed budget, there was P10 billion added to it afterwards.
He said he and his fellow senators need to know the details as they prepare for the bicameral conference committee deliberations on the budget, tentatively scheduled to start Dec. 1. Lacson is part of the Senate contingent, as he is one of the vice chairpersons of the Senate finance panel.
“I want to know what parts of the P60 billion I sought to delete had been considered and rejected. We have to know the details of the Senate version of the budget bill when we face our counterparts in the House for the bicameral conference committee,” he said.
Earlier, Lacson said he proposed a P60-billion slash in the DPWH’s budget as part of his total proposed P63-billion cut. These included appropriations for multi-purpose buildings except those to be used as evacuation and quarantine facilities, as well as double appropriations, right-of-way payments, feasibility studies and also overlapping road projects.
Lacson also proposed the removal of, among others, some P500 million from the National Irrigation Administration’s budget due to some implementation issues.
He proposed that the amount be realigned to other agencies and programs including:
* At least P20 billion for local government units in areas hit hard by recent typhoons, via the Assistance to Local Government Units-Local Government Support Fund (ALGU-LGSF). This includes assistance for evacuation centers and quarantine facilities, for livelihood, and for reconstruction.
* At least P12 billion for the Department of Information and Communications Technology, to at least start its P18-billion national broadband program.
* Additional budget for the flexible learning options of the Department of Education; and augmentation of at least P8 billion more for the Department of Health to implement the Universal Health Care program via the Health Facilities Enhancement Program (HFEP), which needs at least P13 billion.
On the other hand, Lacson said transparency by lawmakers is important to show the public why the Department of Budget and Management should not indiscriminately withhold funding for congressional initiatives – especially institutional amendments – by tagging them as FLR (“For Later Release”).
“The DBM should respect Congress’ authority over the budget during the authorization phase. That said, transparency on the part of lawmakers will go a long way to deter the indiscriminate impounding of congressional initiatives via FLR,” he said.