DBM: ‘Unprogrammed’ DoTr budget supported by loans

THE Department of Budget and Management (DBM) said it can adequately account for all items in the National Expenditure Program (NEP), rejecting claims by a legislator that vague proposals in the NEP suggest that the government is planning to spend “unprogrammed” funds that will swell the budget by as much as P588.1 billion.

“The DBM stands firm on its position of having no irregularities in allocating unprogrammed funds under the 2023 NEP as it is ready to defend the proposed budget with the start of the budget deliberations. Details of these unprogrammed appropriations are available for public and Congress scrutiny,” it said in a statement on Wednesday.

On Saturday, Deputy Speaker and Batangas Rep. Ralph G. Recto called P588.1 billion worth of proposed spending “shades of grey,” referring to the lack of itemization in the spending proposal.

The proposed 2023 budget is officially P5.268 trillion.

“The spending being (sought) by the Palace is actually half-a-trillion pesos more,” Mr. Recto said in a statement, noting that the P588.1 billion is “more than double the current year’s P251.7 billion worth of unprogrammed funds.”

“The funding footprint is big but the appropriations language (consists of) one-liners. It is a blank check request,” he said.

On Wednesday, the DBM said in a statement that the “unprogrammed” portion consists largely of the P378.2 billion for use by the Department of Transportation (DoTr), funded from loans.

The share of unprogrammed appropriations in the budget has typically ranges between 2% and 8.4%. The inclusion of the DoTr item brings the share in the 2023 proposed budget to 11.2%.

The DBM said that the DoTr item should not be classified as an unprogrammed allocation, resorting in an unprogrammed portion of about P200 billion or 4%.

“The DBM contends that if there is going to be an analysis on whether it exceeded the ideal percentage of unprogrammed appropriations against the national budget, it should be based on the P200 billion unprogrammed appropriation, and not with the P378.2 billion unprogrammed appropriation corresponding to loan proceeds of the DoTr,” the DBM said.

Other unprogrammed items include support for infrastructure projects and social programs (P149.6 billion, inclusive of P22 billion for the procurement of vaccines); the Armed Forces of the Philippines Modernization Program (P5 billion); budgetary support to Government-Owned and -Controlled Corporations (P20.6 billion); support to foreign-assisted projects to the Department of Social Welfare and Development (P2.2 billion); the Risk Management Program (P1 billion); and payment of arrears accumulated by the Land Transportation Office-Information Technology service (P2 billion).

It also includes a refund of the service development fee for the right to develop the Nampeidai property in Tokyo (P210.5 million); the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas equity infusion as authorized by RA 11211 (P10 billion); public health emergency benefits and allowances for health and non-healthcare workers (P18.9 billion); and prior years’ funding for local government units (P14 million).

The funding of unprogrammed appropriations is conditional on surplus tax collections, new revenue sources, or additional foreign project loans.

“But the problem is, there seems to be lax compliance on this. In 2020, for example, when revenue collections were down because of the pandemic, every centavo of the P122 billion in unprogrammed appropriations was (still) released,” Mr. Recto said, calling for more transparency whenever the funds are utilized. — Diego Gabriel C. Robles