THE former chief of the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) who is now a lawmaker has questioned the decision to halve the maintenance fund of the agency, warning that it would cripple efforts to deliver badly needed infrastructure services.
Taking the floor at Tuesday’s plenary deliberation on the proposed DPWH budget for 2023, Sen. Mark A. Villar stressed the importance of giving the agency its needed budget to perform its duties and responsibilities.
Villar noted with concern the reduction of the agency’s maintenance fund which was cut from P24 billion to P11.3 billion. “I just like to take this opportunity to manifest that if we want the service, if we want to experience the full capability of the DPWH, if we have the expectation that it will provide us the service, I think we should also reciprocate by giving them the budget that is needed.”
He explained that “based on past experience, any reduction in this budget would lead to a lower service level for the department.”
Villar explained to Sen. Sonny Angara, presiding chairman of the Committee on Finance, that the maintenance fund is allocated for the repair and rehabilitation of infrastructure facilities, maintenance of national roads and bridges, operation of weightbridge stations and its routine check-up.
‘Maintenance funds at P200B’
In the same budget hearing however, Senator Alan Peter Cayetano questioned the spending priorities of DPWH as reflected by its 2023 budget proposal, saying the agency seems to be more concerned about maintaining existing infrastructure than building new roads and bridges.
Cayetano pointed out that the amount of public money to be spent on maintenance and repair works— at around one-third of the agency’s proposed P737.36 billion budget—is inconsistent with the administration’s ‘Build Better More’ infrastructure push.
“If I add up all the individual items for maintenance and rehabilitation, it now stands at over P200 billion. So it’s like almost a third of the budget. This is not a ‘Build Better More’ budget, this is a ‘Maintenance Pa More’ budget,” the senator said, speaking partly in Filipino..
According to Cayetano, the money allocated for the DPWH’s asset preservation program worth P90.48 billion for 2023 and its P166.22-billion flood management program dwarf the funds intended for the public works agency’s network development and bridge building programs at around P140 billion.
Cayetano added that going through the 2023 budget of the DPWH line-by-line, any observer could see many smaller items within the agency’s larger budget categories that are intended for maintenance, repair, and retrofitting works.
The senator reminded DPWH officials to stick to the current administration’s expansionary program for infrastructure development. Otherwise they should inform the President that the agency will have to prioritize repair and maintenance.
Cayetano urged the DPWH to lean more heavily towards building new infrastructure especially in regions of the country which sorely need better roads and bridges.
“Sure we need to maintain roads but we also need a lot of new roads especially going to the tourist sites,” he said.
For his part, Sen. Robinhood Padilla appealed to DPWH to help fix the roads in the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM) region to ensure its economic prosperity.
Padilla lamented the dilapidated roads in marginalized areas in the BARMM region. To illustrate his point, Padilla pointed out that motorists coming from Sultan Kudarat would have a smooth ride as the roads were already paved in the area. However, this was not the case in his area in Maguindanao, according to the Senator. “If we are going to follow the directives of President Ferdinand ‘Bongbong’ Marcos, Jr. to continue the programs under the Bangsamoro Basic Law, we have to work together to fix the roads in the area,” Padilla said in Filipino. Angara, sponsor of the DPWH budget, said Secretary Manuel Bonoan gave his word that the department will prioritize road construction projects in BARMM.