Villar denies lump sums in 2021 DPWH budget

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Public Works Secretary Mark Villar (FILE PHOTO)

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, September 25) — There are no lump sums in the 2021 budget of the Department of Public Works and Highways, Secretary Mark Villar said to refute issues raised during budget hearings.

"If you look at the budgeting, it's line-item budgeting — each project is carefully identified and you can see all the way to the barangay. We really go out of our way to show that these are not lump sums," Villar told CNN Philippines' The Exchange on Friday.

DPWH is slated to get ₱667 billion, a 52 percent increase from this year's budget. It is also the agency receiving the second highest amount in 2021, next to education.

The unequal budget and project allocations for congressional districts is also said to be a factor behind calls for House Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano's supposed ouster, but this plot has not materialized so far.

Senator Panfilo "Ping" Lacson pointed out that some ₱469 billion worth of projects next year are unconstitutional and are prone to corruption. Of these, ₱396.5 billion listed vague purposes, namely the "preventive maintenance" for primary, secondary, and tertiary roads; the rehabilitation, reconstruction, upgrading of damaged paved roads; and the rehabilitation of roads with slips and landslide, Lacson said.

Line-item provisions in the budget should indicate actual location — down to the coordinates — of the project.

At the House of Representatives, the DPWH budget hearing did not push through during its first schedule after panel members were dissatisfied with the initial responses of the agency to questioning by lawmakers.

"Kami, nilalagay po namin yung mga priorities ng ating administrasyon [We include the administration's priorities in the budget] and it’s up to Congress to vet and look into whatever we have," Villar added. "I don’t think there’s a lack of transparency. We’ve been very open and we’ve been very conscious about being as transparent and as efficient as possible."

The Cabinet official said the agency "welcomes any findings" of possible anomalies and will act on these "very swiftly."

Meanwhile, Villar defended the renewed infrastructure push with the third revision to the flagship projects under the "Build, Build, Build" program, worth a total of ₱4.13 trillion. He said more projects will go live in the next six months, which should generate more jobs which could absorb millions of workers displaced by the COVID-19 pandemic.

READ: Build, Build, Build: Luzon projects dominate in new P4.13-T flagship infrastructure list

"We’ll be expecting, very soon, significant improvements in our infrastructure," Villar said. "I agree that health is wealth. But at the same time, people have to make a living."

RELATED: 2021 budget 'anemic' in funding health sector – Hontiveros

The Duterte administration wants to roll out all 104 priority projects before 2022, with some of these expected to be operational by the end of the President's term.