MANILA, Philippines — The government did, in fact, fail to spend as much as P63 billion under the Bayanihan 2 law, Sen. Panfilo Lacson said on Monday after President Rodrigo Duterte wrongly identified him as one of the lawmakers who had complained that billions of pesos were left undisbursed after the funds for pandemic lapsed last month.
Lacson, who initially called out the President for barking up the wrong tree, said his subsequent research on the matter led him to conclude that the underspending claim was indeed correct—some P46.397 billion was undisbursed and P17.273 billion unobligated when the Bayanihan 2 law expired on June 30.
In a radio interview, Lacson said that was a "double whammy" for Filipinos struggling to survive the COVID-19 pandemic as the much-needed aid failed to reach them.
"We should keep in mind that underspending is determined not by fund releases but by obligations and disbursements. And based on my research, is there underspending? Yes!" Lacson said.
According to him, funds are deemed obligated when the contracts for the projects have been signed. Funds are deemed disbursed when the funds are actually paid to the suppliers.
Lacson argued that the release of funds by the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) to the implementing agencies did not mean the funds were already spent "because the funds remain with the agencies and not yet to the intended beneficiaries."
Thus, the measure of underspending should be based on obligations and disbursements, he said.
"Releasing the funds is a step toward spending but it is not spending itself. Just because the DBM released the funds does not mean the funds are spent. If the implementing agencies that got the funds from the DBM are incompetent, the funds won't reach the beneficiaries," Lacson said.
"The bad thing is that Bayanihan 2 already expired last June 30. Those who were denied the funds will no longer get aid unless a new law can be passed," he said.
Mr. Duterte over the weekend mentioned Lacson's name during a televised address as being among those who accused the government of underspending Bayanihan 2 funds, prompting Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez III to say that only 1 percent of the appropriations had not been "released."
But Lacson, citing the DBM's own data, said the underspending was actually worse.
He said that of the P205.117-billion allotment under Bayanihan 2, agencies incurred an obligation of P187.844 billion. But only P141.447 billion was disbursed, he said.
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