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Tug of war over Quezon province 2021 budget heats up

by the Sentinel Times Research Staff
July 18, 2021

Tug of war over Quezon province 2021 budget heats up
Ubana (Photo from his FB account)

LUCENA CITY - Three months of deliberations to thresh out the finer points and fine-tune the proposed 2021 budget for Quezon Province, this year's plan for allocation of monies to keep the provincial government in operation remains stalled in the doldrums-- with neither the local chief executive and the majority in the provincial board budging an inch in what appears to observers as a tug-of-war that portends political battle lines in the 2022 elections.

Incumbent Gov. Danilo Suarez facing a likely rival for the provincial top elective post in an ambitious provincial board member Isias Ubana II calls the Ubana-led stand-off as "political suicide" that will not earn political 'pogi points' for the erstwhile mayor of Lopez, Quezon and his allies.

"This is political suicide. You will be unpopular. It will not gain you anything except insults," Suarez hurled out as the Ubana-led majority bloc of eight board members stood pat in blocking the proposed 2021 budget.

As the adage goes, both God and the Devil dwell in the details-- and Ubana points to the lack of details to justify where about P200 million in the proposed 2021 budget will be spent on.

Ubana cited that the Suarez administration has pruned 40 percent of the budget allocation for Covid-19 response, particularly on the maintenance operations and other expenditures of all the provincial hospitals, except for two.

He also pointed to an inconsistency in the Suarez budget message and
the proposed budget: “This budget seeks to provide response (to) and recovery (from) Covid-19 pandemic.” However, appropriation for such response was snipped in the proposed 2021 budget.

Ubana argued that as the anti-Covid appropriation was laid down in the 2020 budget, the 2021 expenditures should have allocated more monies for local hospitals that would have made the budget message and the budget line items congruent.

Lump sum allocations

Ubana also cited the lump sum executive budget allocation that he found lacking in needful details that run contrary to mandated budget standard and regulations.

He added that in the three-month course of budget hearings, the 8-strong majority board members noticed that lump sum allocations for Covid-19 response running to some P1 billion are lacking in details.

He stressed that line allocations in the proposed budget ought to be detailed-- where the money is to be spent, the exact amount, and the barangays or towns where the money goes.

Ubana also cited the disparity between the Annual Investment Plan approved a year earlier and the proposed 2021 budget- he claimed that the proposed 2021 budget exceeds the investment plan by as much as P200 million.

Suarez allies see political grandstanding in the Ubana-led majority bloc's hindrance to the passage of the 2021 budget for the province.

Ubana insisted that no political agenda is involved in their blockade, since the welfare of the Quezon province is at stake in how taxpayer money is allocated and spent, as called for by law.

2020 budget for 2021

Rather than adopt a P3.8-billion budget for 2021, Quezon province can always fall back on the 2020 budget of P655 million to pay for needful expenditures incurred for the year-- even shortfalls can be covered by supplemental budget "prepared and adopted in the same manner as the annual budget" as called for in Republic Act 2264.

And that means going through the same rigmarole of hearings that could last three months to patch up budget potholes.

Previous hearings revealed that the local government-run Quezon Medical Center (QMC) earned only about P119 million but spent over P259 million in 2016; provincial government subsidy for that year racked over P141 million. At the Covid-19 outbreak last year, QMC spent P560 million in operating costs, collected only about P129 million, and had to be subsidized by the provincial government by over P372.5 million.

Such pecuniary quandary must have prompted the inordinate sourcing of monies from the general fund-- a blatant violation of a provincial ordinance.

The Ubana bloc pointed out that shifting fund allocation for QMc and other medical facilities in the province from the Economic Enterprise Units to the General Fund violated an ordinance passed by the Sangguniang Panlalawigan. Hospitals and medical facilities, as defined in the provincial ordinance, fall under EEUs, and their funds should not be derived from the general fund.

“Did you unilaterally transfer or did you seek approval of the Sanguniang Panglalawigan to amend the existing ordinance regarding Economic Enterprise in the province?” Ubana asked.

With budget shortfalls amidst the eve of an election year, supplemental budget hearings may provide the platform for aspiring candidates to address the Quezon Province populace-- if only ordinary people and voters are allowed to be present in such hearings.


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