The Department of Budget and Management (DBM) stated in a recent interview that P160 Billion in project funds marked “for later release” may only be allocated upon the approval of the Office of the President.
DBM Secretary Wendel Avisado stated that the department does not arbitrarily withhold funding. “Hindi naman kami pwedeng mag-ipit ng pondo. Ang trabaho namin mag-release (We are not able to withhold funds. The nature of our work is to release),” he said in a radio interview.
There are two categories of funds to be released under the General Appropriations Act (GAA). Funds marked “for comprehensive release” may be disbursed upon the authorization of the departments involved; while funds classified as “for later release” need the President’s approval, according to Avisado.
“Kapag ‘for later release,’ may pondo na. Kaya nga lang, walang kontrol ang DBM at kailangan kong i-forward sa Office of the President (If [a fund has been indicated] ‘for later release’, the fund has already been allocated for. However, the DBM has no control [over the release], and I need to forward such to the Office of the President),” said the DBM Secretary.
In September of last year, the Office of the Ombudsman also weighed in on DBM’s actions regarding the non-release of non-pandemic funds, which Senator Paniflo Lacson had at the time warned against “setting a precedent for future issuances by DBM”.
Several members of the Legislature have spoken on the issue, as the P160 Billion in question is critical to the success of several pandemic response projects to be enacted by several government bodies. Among those who raised concerns were Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon, Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph Recto, and Sen. Sonny Angara.
Drilon suspected that these funds remain unreleased due to politicking, especially against the backdrop of the incoming 2022 national elections. However, Avisado denied this claim.
“Hindi po [ito] nakakabit sa eleksyon dahil ang eleksyon ay next year pa. Ang pondo ay para sa taong ito, 2021, at hindi para sa 2022, (This isn’t connected to the election, because the election takes place next year. The funds in question are for 2021, and not for 2022),” he refuted.
Government critics remain skeptical, however, arguing that political campaigning begins far before the “official campaign period” does.