Press Release
September 21, 2020

Drilon fears House power struggle could derail passage of P4.5-T 2021 nat'l budget

Senate Minority Leader Franklin M. Drilon feared that the power struggle in the House of Representatives (HoR) and the bickering among congressmen supposedly over infrastructure funds of legislative districts lodged under the Department of Public Works and Highway (DPWH) could affect their timetable and derail the passage of the P4.5-trillion national budget for 2021.

"Certainly, a power struggle in the House of Representatives will affect our timelines and I hope not because we are still in the middle of a pandemic and we have about 10% unemployment," Drilon said in an interview with cable channel ANC.

"The budget provides the spending authority for the government. If there is no spending authority because of the delay in the budget, what would happen is, there will be a re-enacted budget and a re-enacted budget would mean that new programs will not be funded or would have to wait until the budget is passed," he explained.

"More than any other time in the past, it is critical that the budget be enacted on time. We cannot delay the budget for 2021 because of the condition we are in today," he stressed.

He underscored that the 2021 national budget seeks to address the pandemic, unemployment and the imminent economic contraction that is projected to be 6% to 9% by the end of 2020.

If the budget for 2021 is delayed, the country's recovery from the pandemic will be derailed too, he added.

Drilon recalled how a power struggle and bickering over infrastructure funds in 2018 delayed the passage of the 2019 national budget for over four months, which the economic managers blamed for the economic slowdown. Asked whether the bickering over infrastructure funds is connected to the 2022 elections, Drilon responded: "I would like to attribute good faith. But you cannot discount that this is part of the preparations for 2022. I have been in Congress long enough to know that if there is anything you should exercise extra vigilance, it is what is called the election year budget."

Drilon said the P469-B lump-sum allocations in the DPWH budget should be disaggregated in the spirit of transparency.

Drilon warns 'soft projects' in P16.4-B anti-red funds vulnerable to corruption

Meanwhile, the minority leader warned that the "soft projects" component of the controversial P16.4-billion anti-insurgency funds are prone to corruption and abuse, citing the past corruption cases involving similar programs.

Drilon said the P16.4 billion lump-sum appropriation called Barangay Development Program, which is lodged under the Allocation to Local Government Unit (ALGU), will not only fund "hard projects" or infrastructure-related but will also fund "soft projects" such as medical assistance, burial, transportation, food, cash for work; and educational assistance.

"These are precisely the items which you recall in the past enabled the corruption," said Drilon, citing the P728-million fertilizer fund scam and the case of "ghost scholars" and "ghost trainings" at the TESDA.

"It is open to corruption and abuse for the 2022 elections," he said, adding that even the Commission on Audit will have difficulty to audit these funds which would be implemented by more than 800 barangays.

"These soft programs are often the source of corruption as we have seen in the past. This is exactly the kind of system that 'sticky fingers' in government use for corruption," Drilon said in a separate statement. "Given the corruption issues that the Senate has unearthed, we should rid the budget of every opportunity for corruption."

The Senate chief fiscalizer said he will put forward safeguards including the transfer of the funds to the implementing agencies and limiting the projects to infrastructure.

"To the extent that we can abolish it, we will do it. If we cannot because we are in the minority, we will make sure that there is transparency and it does not have soft programs," he said.

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