By Junex Doronio
CROSSING PARTY LINES, senators on Wednesday assailed the unspent P83-billion in the hands of the Department of Social Welfsre and Development (DSWD) amid the pandemic and successive calamities.
“Yung P6 billion may appear as small in this era of trillion-peso budgets, pero puwede mo nang ibili ng 6 million bags of rice na tig-25 kilos,” pro-administration Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph Recto said in a statement.
The opposition also howled in protest.
“This is almost criminal. Hindi pwedeng magpatuloy ito. Mayroon tayong pera pero hindi natin ibinibigay sa nangangailangan. Wala na tayong mukhang maihaharap sa taumbayan, may pera tayo pero ayaw nating gumawa ng proyekto,” Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon said.
During the Senate budget deliberations on Tuesday, November 17, Senator Imee Marcos, who is tasked to defend the DSWD 2021 budget, revealed that over P83 billion from the agency’s past budgets have not been spent due to “difficulty in disbursing during the period of Covid-19, and during the repeated typhoons.”
Marcos said the DSWD has only spent 53.62 percent of its 2020 budget, leaving it with P75 billion unspent funds.
In 2019, the DSWD was also not able to spend P1.5 billion.
It was further gathered that for the two Bayanihan laws—the Bayanihan to Heal as One Act and the Bayanihan to Recover as One Act—a total of P6.7 billion remains unobligated.
This prompted Recto to urge the DSWD “to act like a Santa Claus on overdrive” and disburse quickly its unused funds.
“Midnight of December 31 is the Cinderella hour for these funds. If they have not been obligated, their validity automatically expires on January 1,” Recto pointed out.
The senator from Batangas said he filed a bill extending the validity of the Bayanihan 2 Law so that “stranded funds can still be spent next year.”
But he warned that even if it becomes a law, Bayanihan 2 covers only a small part of the unspent DSWD funds,” in the neighborhood of P6 billion for the second SAP, the cash aid for poor families.”
“That’s the tip. The iceberg is some P75 billion. That money, we’ve been told, is now with the DSWD. If it has been obligated, the next step is to disburse it with urgency,” Recto said.
Drilon said the P83 billion should be allocated for assistance to those affected by both the pandemic and the recent calamities that struck the country.
“There are 10 million ang nawalan ng trabaho, [seven] million nakaranas ng gutom sa nakaraang tatlong buwan. Yet, mayroon tayong P83 billion unexpended sums in the bank accounts of the DSWD,” Drilon lamented.
For his part, Senator Francis Pangilinan proposed the filing of a Senate resolution that would urge the DSWD to fast-track the release of the funds remaining in its coffers. (AI/MTVN)