By Ernie Reyes
MANILA — Senate Minority Leader Franklin M. Drilon assailed the government and accused it of criminal neglect over what the Commission on Audit (COA) had earlier flagged as delayed, abandoned and idle infrastructure projects amounting to P1.44 trillion, describing it the worst waste of taxpayers’ money in history.
“This is sheer delinquency and criminal neglect. What a total waste of public funds,” Drilon said on Thursday.
“We have P1.44 trillion funds for various infrastructures sitting somewhere while thousands of families have no homes and food this Christmas. We have these mammoth funds for projects that are stalled for years while the government is saying it is scrimping on funds to provide immediate aid to typhoon-affected cities, municipalities and provinces,” Drilon lamented.
Drilon said the funds should be recalled and re-channelled to assist the victims of typhoon “Odette” and provide for the immediate recovery and rehabilitation of various parts of the country damaged by the typhoon.
“We borrow funds to cover the deficits in the budget. We borrow funds for vaccines. We have no funds for the typhoon victims. But the COA finds P1.44 trillion in idle funds? These funds should be immediately re-aligned to provide funds to typhoon victims,” he stressed.
Drilon recalled that during the plenary debates on the 2022 national budget, it was put on record that the national government’s outstanding debt could total P11.7 trillion by the end of 2021.
The Senate chief fiscalizer also said that the huge funds can also fund the procurement of COVID-19 vaccines for 2022, noting that bulk of the budget for the much-needed booster shots remains in the unprogrammed fund of the to-be-signed 2022 General Appropriations Act.
Drilon, a former executive and justice secretary, said the agencies responsible for stalled projects may face administrative and criminal complaints.
“They should be held responsible. The officials responsible should be charged for causing injury to the public because of their reckless imprudence,” Drilon said Thursday.
He cited nonfeasance or omission to perform a duty required of the public officer as a possible crime.
In the 2020 Annual Financial Report (AFR), the COA identified “Infrastructure projects implemented by 17 agencies and 12 SUCs (state universities and colleges) amounting to P1.44 trillion and P1.1 billion, respectively, were either not executed in accordance with the plan with noted deficiencies, not completed on time, not completed at all which may result in waste of government funds or delayed enjoyment of project benefits.”
The bulk of which is for the Build, Build, Build projects supposed to be implemented by the Department of Transportation (DOTr) with 15 projects totaling P1.313 trillion and the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) with 3,283 projects worth P108.32 billion, among others, he noted.
Drilon lamented the social and economic costs caused by the stalled projects. “Instead of using our limited funds to augment the budget for social and health service sectors, the government has devoted so much of its resources to the infrastructure and defense sectors. Our social and health services took a backseat precisely to fund these infrastructure projects that the COA found delayed and idle,” Drilon lamented.
“In light of this, the government must examine its prioritization, once and for all, because much of the spending stimulating are meant to boost the supply side, particularly the infrastructure project, and the social amelioration portion is not given the stimulus necessary in order that there can be spending on the part of the poor sector of our society brought by the pandemic,” Drilon said.