The COVID-19 pandemic and the calamities that battered the country emphasize the need to review priorities in appropriating and spending the national budget, Senator Panfilo Lacson said Saturday.

LACSON 1024x682 - With COVID-19, natural calamities, gov’t needs to review priorities in nat’l budget — Sen. Lacson
Senator Panfilo M. Lacson
(CZAR DANCEL / MANILA BULLETIN FILE PHOTO)

“Katakot-takot na kalamidad ‘yong naranasan natin, kailangan talaga tipirin at ayusin ‘yong paggastos sa national budget (We have experienced a series of calamities this year, so we really have to save and spend our national budget properly),” Lacson told radio DWIZ in an interview.

The senator issued the statement as he reiterated his proposal to realign proposed funds for “skeleton” multipurpose building projects to programs that would help in the government’s response to the health crisis and the destruction left by the recent typhoons in several parts of the country.

“Baka pwedeng, hindi naman totally abandon na ‘yong mga nakatiwangwang na mga proyekto, tignan lang mabuti. At sa taong 2021, baka pwedeng isantabi muna natin ‘yong para sa multipurpose buildings na hindi naman talaga kailangan — at nakita naman na nasasayang — ipang-augment natin doon sa talagang pangangailangan dito sa pandemya, pati sa kalamidad (Maybe we can, not really totally abandon the languishing projects, but review them carefully. And for the year 2021, maybe we can set aside those multipurpose buildings that we don’t really need — and not being used as we discovered — to augment the funds for our needs during the pandemic and the calamities),” he said.

Earlier, Lacson said his office learned that unfinished projects under the Various Infrastructures including Local Projects (VILP) and the Local Infrastructure Program received an appropriation of over P168 billion since 2016 and would continue to receive funds. Under the proposed 2021 budget, the projects were allotted some P68 billion.

He said these could be realigned to special purpose funds under the Assistance for Local Government Units, which the President could release to pandemic and typhoon-hit local government units (LGUs). Only P12 billion was set aside for next year’s ALGU, he said.

“Na-triple whammy ‘yong mga LGUs, hindi lamang double whammy, kasi gumastos na sila sa COVID, tapos tinamaan ng Rolly, ‘yong iba tinamaan pa ng Siony, tapos sinamahan pa ng Ulysses…Talagang matindi ang pangangailangan (LGUs faced a triple whammy, not only a double whammy, because they already spent a huge amount for COVID-19, then Typhoon Rolly came, others were hit by Typhoon Siony, and then Typhoon Ulysses added up. So they need the funds badly),” he said.

Lacson said he has asked the Department of Interior and Local Government for a report on the damages made by the calamities to LGUs so they could determine where to realign the funds.

He also pitched for an increase in the budget for the Department of Information and Communications Technology’s National Broadband Program to improve the country’s internet infrastructure amid the shift to online processes.

Meanwhile, Lacson clarified that his exposes on questionable appropriations in the 2021 national budget were not meant to go after certain officials.

He said he will forward to the Department of Justice (DOJ) the documents for his claims so it can be reviewed for the DOJ-led mega task force’s investigation of alleged irregularities in government projects. President Duterte had ordered a government-wide probe on “ghost” infrastructure projects and corruption.

“Wala naman tayong pinupuntiya o pinatatamaan. General itong observation natin na panahon na siguro para tignan nating mabuti na ‘yong pondo hindi maaksaya (We are not after or aim to hit anyone. It’s just a general observation that maybe it’s time that we ensure that government funds go to waste),” Lacson said.

“Ang tanong: Bakit pinabayaan natin na paulit-ulit na lang na sinasayang natin ang pondo, samantalang naghihirap ‘yong mga kababayan natin? Pagkatapos nakikita natin na kung ‘di man natatapon sa inefficiency, natatapon sa corruption (The question is: Why are we allowing that we repeatedly continue to waste funds while our people are suffering? And then we see that they go to corruption, if not inefficiency),” he said.

The Senate will resume plenary debates on the proposed 2021 national budget on Monday, November 16.

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