House panel suspends DPWH budget deliberation due to absence of top officials

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, September 17) — The House of Representatives' Committee on Appropriations decided to suspend deliberations on the 2021 proposed budget of the Department of Public Works and Highways due to the absence of top officials.

The budget hearing for DPWH that lasted for almost an hour was attended by only two of six undersecretaries and three of five assistant secretaries. Public Works Secretary Mark Villar, who was virtually present via Zoom, was grilled on why the proposed budget had few details.

House Minority Leader Benny Abante questioned the absence of top officials of the department, noting that the budget deliberation was held in the plenary hall for them to able to attend.

"With due respect Mr. Chair, mahirap makipag-usap ng mahusay rito (it is difficult to discuss well here) because even the DICT admitted that our internet is very slow, so Mr. Chair, with reservation, I would like to move for a deferment of the deliberation of this budget," Abante added.

The move was supported by another lawmaker, prompting the committee chairman, CWS party-list Rep. Romeo Momo, to suspend the hearing. The committee has not yet announced when the next hearing will be held.

The DPWH proposed 2021 budget is at P667.3 billion, 34 percent higher than what it got in 2020. It is also second among the departments which received the bulk of the P4.506 trillion national budget for the next fiscal year.

Officials have said that the infrastructure program Build, Build, Build is key in helping the economy recover from the adverse effects of the health crisis.

Of the total budget, P643.17 billion is allocated for both infrastructure and non-infrastructure projects, up 15 percent from 2020.

During the hearing, Gabriela party-list Rep. Arlene Brosas again questioned the P397.2 billion lump sum budget for 2021, which she noted was only scattered to various regional projects.

This issue was also raised during the Development Budget Coordinating Council hearing in early-September, when Brosas noted that about 60 percent of the department’s total budget lacks breakdown.

Brosas also cited “double and exactly identical fund insertions” in the department’s budget.

Villar said that the breakdown for all the projects are already available. He also stressed that there are no double insertions in the budget, and that these are only continuation of existing projects.

Meanwhile, Negros Oriental Rep. Arnie Teves questioned the low allocation for infrastructure projects in his district at less than P2 billion despite ranking eighth in terms of absorptive capacity, while other areas get more compared to them.

Villar explained that this might be due to the presence of flagship projects being prioritized by the administration.

CNN Philippines’ Paolo Barcelon contributed to this report.