PRESIDENT Benigno S. Aquino 3rd on Monday heaped praises on the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) for transforming itself from being the “poster boy” of corruption into a role model of efficient governance in the last five years,
The President made the statement during the agency’s 117th founding anniversary where he spoke as the guest of honor.
He said the DPWH exemplifies the mantra of “daang matuwid” (straight path) that his administration has adopted.
“Lalong lumalalim ang paghanga natin para sa DPWH kapag tinitingnan ang lawak ng transpormasyong nangyari sa inyong ahensiya sa loob ng limang taon. Ang dating poster boy ng katiwalian, ngayon ay modelo na ng episyenteng pamamalakad [I’m more impressed with the DPWH as I look into how far and wide its transformation has become in the last five years. The former poster boy of irregularity is now a model of efficient management],” Aquino noted in his speech.
In particular, the President commended Public Works Secretary Rogelio Singson for the reforms he initiated, saying he solved the problems left by previous heads of the agency.
“Through his leadership, we made corrupt officials and staffers accountable; anomalous projects were reviewed and the awarding of contracts held back. Scheming contractors were blacklisted and placed under investigation and will be charged as soon as possible,” he said in Filipino.
Aquino also noted how the agency has improved through its more competitive, transparent and streamed-line processes as well as reducing its corrupt practices during the last five years of his administration.
“Kung dati nga po ‘just-tiis’ ang kalakaran, ngayon, sa daang matuwid, talagang justice na po ang namamayani [If in the past, the procedure was to just grin and bear it, in our straight path policy, it’s justice that prevailed],” the President pointed out.
The transformation and accomplishments of the DPWH, he said, have made it to become a role model for other government agencies.
“If there’s an agency in government that is to serve as a role model in giving comfort and ease to the citizenry, that’s the DPWH,” the President added.
He pledged to increase the DPWH budget for next year, which will be equivalent to 5 percent of the country’s gross domestic product or an estimated P600 billion.
“By next year, it is estimated that the DPWH budget will be equivalent to five percent of our bigger (GDP). Earlier, when you saw me going over something on my IPhone, I was counting how many zeroes are there. It’s quite huge, somewhere in the vicinity of P600 billion is earmarked for your 2016 projects,” Aquino said also in Filipino.
He made the announcement a week after his administration drew flak from the opposition, which alleged that some P581 billion from savings generated by the government through the newly-introduced 2-Tier Budget Approach (2TBA) would be diverted to the campaign chest of the Liberal Party (LP).
United Nationalist Alliance (UNA) interim president and Navotas City (Metro Manila) Rep. Tobias Tiangco claimed the 2TBA introduced by Budget Secretary Florencio Abad “is a thinly-veiled budget of hide and seek, designed to divert discretionary money into pet projects in an election year to garner votes, not help alleviate poverty and help the poor.”
Under the program, which UNA likened to the Disbursement Acceleration Program that was used as a form of pork barrel funds, separate reviews will be conducted for ongoing or approved programs vis-à-vis new or expanded ones to improve each of them. It will be used in preparing the 2016 national budget.
It was not clear if the P581 billion to be “freed” would be separate and distinct or would overlap with the P600 billion in construction funds that Aquino mentioned.
In his speech, the President said it would not be difficult to raise such a huge amount “if we are sure that they go where they are intended for.”
“I repeat, five percent of next year’s GDP, or projected GDP. Right now, we are in the vicinity of four percent. So, keep up the good work,” Aquino told officials and employees of the DPWH, to whom he also heaped praises for effectively running the agency.
He explained that his administration only has 374 days remaining so that “it should maximize the time to further strengthen the transformation being experienced today.”
“From what we started, the benefits will be reaped by our successors: dikes and dams to support communities, farm-to-market roads and highways that will speed up agriculture, commerce and tourism and which will bring opportunities to the remotest areas, and other infrastructure that will carry us through a better tomorrow,” the President said.
Already, the P2.606-trillion budget for 2015 was the highest budget approved for a year leading up to a national election. The DPWH has the second biggest budget of P303.2 billion, next to the Education department’s P367.1 billion allocation. A far third is the Department of National Defense with P144.5 billion.
The proposed 2016 national budget of P3 trillion is higher by 15.1 percent than the 2015 budget of P2.606 billion, or an increase of P394.0 billion.
According to Aquino, the “new normal” at the DPWH is constructing low-cost but high-quality infrastructure.
“The projects are even completed on time, if not sooner. In terms of road quality, according to the Global Competitiveness Report of the World Economic Forum, we continue to improve from 114th in 2010-2011 to 87th place for 2014-2015,” he said.
“This is proof that as we increase the budget of your agency and as we gain support, you return the favor to our country through quality work,” Aquino added.
But critics are most likely to frown over the President’s latest pronouncements concerning the budget since 2016 is an election year.
Tiangco, for one, had claimed the new 2TBA budgeting scheme was merely a novel way of funneling money into the LP’s campaign kitty after the Supreme Court declared portions of the DAP unconstitutional.
He also noted that the Aquino administration previously tried other creative ways of raising campaign funds.
“There was the ‘Bottom-Up Budgeting’ and ‘Grassroots Participatory Budgeting’ in 2014 which both gave the illusion of tapping communities in the budgeting process. In essence, all these are the same mechanisms as the unconstitutional DAP, but just named differently,” Tiangco said.
Abad, defended the new budget tack as something that will give more room in the 2016 budget for new socio-economic programs.
“The DBM was able to come up with this estimated fiscal space thanks to the Two-Tier approach, which gives agencies a better focus on program planning. Under this approach, government departments are able to prioritize which of their programs they can concentrate on to accommodate more productive expenditures,” the Budget chief explained.
According to the DBM, the 2TBA approach was adopted in line with the Aquino administration’s efforts to craft a national budget that would be responsive to the needs of Filipinos.