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Check ‘diversion’ of aviation gear fund–Ping

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TRANSPORTATION officials in the Duterte administration may have failed—deliberately or not to spend P13 billion appropriated by Congress in 2018 for a vital backup in the air traffic control (ATC) system, then declared this as savings and realigned it for what are billed as “cosmetic” civil works in the airport.

Former senator Panfilo Lacson, reputedly the most diligent in scrutinizing the national budget in the 18th Congress, raised this possibility on Tuesday in reply to a BusinessMirror query on a report that during DOTr Secretary Arturo Tugade’s watch, the P13 billion for “redundancies” in the ATC system under the Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines (CAAP) was diverted to non-essential civil works in the airport. That backup system is now being seen as the vital cog that could have prevented the massive New Year’s glitch that paralyzed the Ninoy Aquino International Airport, disrupting 285 flights and affecting 56,000 to 65,000 passengers.

Lacson had said in a tweet on Tuesday, reacting to reports of an alleged diversion of the P13-billion outlay: “Stupidity or greed? If reports are accurate that the budget appropriated by Congress for the setup of redundancies in the air traffic control system was diverted to some beautification projects at Naia, those responsible should spend their next holiday season in jail.”

Lacson later issued a statement reiterating his replies to BusinessMirror’s request for a reaction to the “diversion” report. Tugade, through his spokesman, strongly denied any malversation or fund diversion had taken place.

Lacson meanwhile noted that: “Incidentally, DOTr is one of the departments with the worst underspending record, year in and year out.  The P13 billion must have been part of their unspent appropriations, declared as savings, then realigned.”

He expressed hope that the Public Services Committee, chaired by Sen. Grace Poe, “can look more deeply into the history of that particular appropriation” when the Senate inquiry into the January 1 fiasco rolls around.

A Senate inquiry is widely seen to follow the Jan. 1 fiasco, as several senators have weighed in on the issue, with Sen. Jinggoy Estrada vowing to file the requisite resolution.

Lacson is known for assiduously examining the past year’s budget and spending before clearing the next year’s budget.

The former senator said: “First, an appropriation is a provision of law passed by Congress that must be followed by the implementing agency.

“That being the premise, while I cannot speak for the present Congress, that’s what I used to do especially during the committee deliberations where we could directly question the heads of agencies concerned.

“Prior to the committee hearings and plenary debates, I diligently reviewed and discussed with my staff both the proposed and passed annual appropriations of major agencies, even as far back as three budget years, with emphasis on underutilization and misuse of public funds.”

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