By Ben O. de Vera, February 11 2019; Philippine Daily Inquirer

Image Credit to Business World

Underspending of the national budget persisted on the first full year of the Duterte administration, as over one-fourth of the appropriations for 2017 equivalent to P828.75 billion was unspent.

A Department of Budget and Management briefer in relation to the House appropriations committee’s ongoing probe of alleged budget irregularities showed that of the P3.484 trillion in allotments in 2017—which included the P3.35-trillion national budget and continuing appropriation—95.2 percent or P3.315 trillion was obligated.

Since the 2017 budget was obligation-based, it can be spent within a two-year period.

But of the obligations in 2017, only 74.7 percent or P2.477 trillion had been disbursed so far, DBM data showed.

Sought to comment on the DBM briefer, former budget chief Florencio B. Abad told the Inquirer Friday that the data was “revealing” as “it belies (Budget Secretary Benjamin E.) Diokno’s brag that underspending has been checked under his watch.”

“We never recorded that high a level of underspending,” Abad claimed.

Diokno had been criticizing the Benigno Aquino III administration for “chronic” underspending, lamenting that trillions of pesos worth of projects were not implemented as his predecessor Abad was unable to disburse according to program.

For Diokno, fiscal underspending was defined as the ratio of actual disbursements against the programmed expenditures identified under the national government’s budget deficit cap for the year.

As such, Diokno had said that in 2017, government spending was already reduced to only 2.9 percent of program from 3.6 percent in 2016, 12.8 percent in 2015, and 13.3 percent in 2014.

For 2017, the total disbursement worth P2.824 trillion fell short of the P2.909-trillion program, which was attributed by the DBM to savings from interest payments (P24.3 billion) and net lending (P21 billion) as well as program balances from the Miscellaneous Personnel Benefits Fund, Pension and Gratuity Fund, and undisbursed Comelec expenditures for personnel services due to the delayed SK and barangay elections that year.