Camarines Sur Rep. Rolando Andaya Jr. (File photo by EDWIN BACASMAS / Philippine Daily Inquirer)
MANILA, Philippines — The leadership of the House of Representatives on Tuesday slammed senators for their alleged “sabotage” of the government’s infrastructure program by “unilaterally” imposing budget cuts on funding allocations for the “Build, Build, Build” and other flagship programs.
Camarines Sur Rep. Rolando Andaya Jr., House appropriations committee chair, dismissed the allegation that the amendments introduced by House members in the bicameral conference committee meetings were meant to “debilitate” the executive department in implementing the President’s priority programs and projects.
“We wish to emphasize that the details of these budget cuts were not fully discussed in the bicameral conference committee,” Andaya said in a statement. “The senators unilaterally decided on the budget cuts and realigned them to other items based on request of individual proponents.”
Andaya made the statement in response to remarks that members of the House were sabotaging the Duterte administration by causing a stalemate in the approval of the 2019 General Appropriations Bill.
“We wish to put on record that the House of Representatives never made a move to reduce the 2019 budget for infrastructure projects as appropriated in the National Expenditure Program (NEP),” Andaya said. “In fact, the House introduced amendments increasing the budget for infrastructure projects without breaching the total amount pegged by the (NEP).”
According to Andaya, the amendments that House members introduced would allow the executive branch to “spur economic growth through increased public expenditure,” while making sure that that the spending law would pass the test “not only of constitutionality and legality but also of transparency and accountability.”
Andaya challenged senators to make public a detailed report on who among them proposed individual realignments in the proposed 2019 budget.
Andaya pointed to items that the Senate allegedly took out in the final version of the GAB, which include P16 billion for right-of-way projects under the “Build, Build, Build” program.
According to records, this covers P11 billion under the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) and P5 billion from the Department of Transportation.
“Depriving the government with funds for right-of-way and other infrastructure projects will surely hamper the implementation of the President’s Build, Build, Build Program. Construction on priority projects, including mass transit and railway systems will be most affected,” Andaya said.
Andaya also questioned the alleged realignment of P39 billion for “pension and gratuity fund,” which covers the payment pension of retired soldiers and Department of Defense employees; retired uniformed personnel in the police, jail and fire services and Coast Guard; as well as other retirees of the national government.
Senators also deleted the P7.5 billion budget for the hosting of the Southeast Asian Games, but while P5 billion has been transferred as funding for the Philippine Sports Commission, about P2.5 billion is “nowhere to be found,” according to Andaya.
He said P3 billion as a supposed scholarship fund for rebel returnees, out-of-school youths and rehabilitating drug dependents enrolled under the Universal Access to Tertiary Education has also been realigned, and is seen to deprive about 320,000 students enrolled to lose their scholarship in 2019.
According to Andaya, senators also realigned P2.3 billion for the supposed funding of the National Greening Program of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), which supposedly caused funding for all provincial DENR offices slashed by half, except Antique, home province of Senator Loren Legarda.
“We are confident that the Office of the President would consider these items in their review and find ways on how to restore them in the President’s veto message,” he said.
House members are “confident and convinced,” Andaya said, that President Duterte will exercise his veto powers “for the benefit of the nation and of (the Filipino) people.”
But in a statement, Andaya’s fellow House member and political nemesis in the House, Rep. L-Ray Villafuerte, criticized Andaya and his “favored cronies” for their “unconstitutional maneuvers’ which, he said, has already inflicted “irreparable damage” to the economy.
This has supposedly undermined the Duterte administration’s target of boosting gross domestic product (GDP) growth to 7 percent this year, even after Congress has already broken the impasse on the budget last week.
As a result of the three-month delay in the transmittal of the 2019 GAB to Malacañang, Villafuerte said the President’s economic managers have had to revise and downgrade their growth target to 6 to 7 percent from the original 7 to 8 percent for 2019.
The government had to curtail spending P45 billion on infrastructure and social services in the year’s first quarter because the government was forced to operate on reenacted 2018 budget during this period, the Camarines Sur lawmaker said.
“Even after the Congress reached an agreement this week over the 2019 budget, Andaya’s earlier machinations to delay its transmittal to Malacañang—just to ensure that his pork barrel funds and those of his cohorts remain intact and even padded—have already done irreparable damage to the domestic economy,” he said. /atm
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