THE SENATE finance committee on Wednesday questioned changes in the 2021 budget of the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) after its P131-billion budget for national road development was cut.
Senator Panfilo M. Lacson, vice chairman of the committee, noted that P21.456 billion of the fund had been transferred to local projects.
“I’d like to find out why there’s a big variance of P21.456 billion lost from network development,” he told Public Works Secretary Mark A. Villar during an online hearing.
“This will have a major effect on national development, which I believe should be the focus of Reset, Rebound, Recover,” he said in mixed English and Filipino.
Under the national expenditure program, P131 billion was allocated for network development, which was cut to P109 billion in DPWH’s August 14 submission after it made changes to its budget items.
Mr. Villar said his office had to submit a detailed annex of its proposed budget at a later date under a compromise with the Budget department due to a tight deadline during the budget processing.
“The ceiling was given at a date very close to the actual printing, which rendered us unable to give details in such a short time,” he told senators.
DPWH’s budget for the construction of roads near tourism destinations was also cut by P8.4 billion, while the budget for local programs was increased by P52 billion.
This raised the budget for local programs to P229 billion from P176 billion, P67 billion of which will fund the building of multi-purpose buildings and facilities. Mr. Villar said his office had received requests from various sectors for these buildings.
He said national programs would still be prioritized. “We also want to do pump-priming in the countryside, in communities that are hard to reach.”
At the same hearing, senators asked the agency to prioritize Filipinos over foreigners in hiring. Senator Francis N. Pangilinan asked Mr. Villar whether the government’s loan agreements with China under its national infrastructure program has a clause that will give preference to Filipino workers.
“The construction industry has registered the largest drop in unemployment in the second quarter of this year,” he said. “That’s almost a 30% drop in employment. So, it is really imperative for the government to be able to create jobs and also protect existing jobs,” he added.
Public Works Undersecretary Emil K. Sadain said some Chinese workers had been hired because the projects required technical jobs. He said Filipinos would be prioritized in future agreements.
“In future projects, we’ll put some consideration to give more high emphasis on the engagement of Filipino workers over the Chinese workers,” he added. — Charmaine A. Tadalan