Lawmakers on both sides of the political fence have united to push for an increase in the budget of the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) for next year.
During the budget deliberations of the House Appropriations Committee on the DPWH’s proposed P544.521-billion budget for 2019 on Thursday, Albay Rep. Edcel C. Lagman rallied lawmakers to support the restoration of cuts made by the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) and an augmentation of the DPWH’s budget.
“The majority and minority must be united in supporting a realistic budget of the Department of Public Works and Highways in order to make a truism of the oft-repeated invocation that infrastructure is the is the engine of growth and help pursue the government’s “BBB” [Build, Build, Build] agenda,” Lagman said.
“I reiterate my call that the majority and minority should mend differences for the time being in order to forge a collective decision to support the budget of the DPWH, restore what had been cut, and augment its budget once justified and imperative,” Lagman added.
Lagman said the DPWH budget is one of the “major casualties” of the cash-based budget, noting a total slash of P93.34 billion.
The P544.521-billion budget for next year saw a downward trend of 14.63 percent, from this year’s P637.864-billion budget.
Lagman said there is “absolutely no reason to inordinately reduce” the budget of the DPWH, considering that its absorptive capacity has improved during the first six months of 2018 and that DBM has also approved the employment of more DPWH personnel.
He also noted that the policy statement of Speaker Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo that all congressmen will receive allocations for their respective districts cannot be “completely pursued” with inadequate funding.
“How can this be completely pursued if the budget of the DPWH is not adequate even as the lost infrastructure projects this year because of the zero allocations cannot be offset by additional funding next year if the proposed budget of the DPWH is frozen at its present decimated level,” he said.
House Appropriations Committee Chairman Karlo Alexei B. Nograles of Davao City echoed Lagman’s sentiment, saying they would strive to at least restore the budget that the DPWH has originally proposed.
“The majority will join with the minority and the independents in consolidating our forces to restore at the very least, what we’re really looking for is what has been proposed [by the DPWH],” Nograles said.
He said it was the sentiment of the House during an all-member caucus that “we are not going to support the cash-based budgeting.”
Zamboanga City Rep. Celso L. Lobregat asked Public Works Secretary Mark A. Villar how the agency can support the administration’s massive infrastructure program when its capital outlay was cut by more than P90 billion.
Villar said, while the shift to a cash-based budgeting is “challenging” as it requires disbursements to be made within the fiscal year, the department has made several adjustments for that.
“We are adjusting to this new policy which is in contrast to the previous shift. It is the mandate of this department if they tell us to disburse in one year, we have to adjust our assumptions based on that,” Villar said.
“We have to make sure that our timelines are extremely accurate. We have to make sure preparation of our projects are all on time… It’s more challenging, [but] it’s not impossible. It’s a different form of budgeting and we will do our best to adjust to it,” he added.
In an annual cash-based budget, contracts intended to be implemented for the fiscal year should be fully delivered by the end of the year.
On the other hand, the multiyear obligation-based budgeting system allows the government to enter into a contract or “obligate funds” without requiring the actual delivery of goods and services within the year.
Budget Secretary Benjamin E. Diokno said having an annual cash-based appropriations leads to greater fiscal discipline and prudent use of budget, faster and improved delivery of essential public services, and a more open and accountable government.