Manila, August 8, 2003 By Paolo Romero (STAR) Indeed they let their fingers do the walking.

Government agencies have racked up a whopping P2 billion in unpaid phone bills with the Philippine Long Distance Telephone Co. (PLDT).

This apparently prompted lawmakers to review the communications budget of each government agency prior to the approval of the P864.8 billion proposed national budget for 2004.

Lawmakers led by Camarines Sur Rep. Rolando Andaya, chairman of the House appropriations committee, said the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) topped the list of delinquent government agencies with P112.8 million in unpaid phone bills.

"Government phones are for service not telebabad (gossiping over the phone), unfortunately many have become PABXs (private automatic branch exchange) for chismis (gossip)," Andaya said.

"I hope that payments for phone bills were not converted for other uses," he added.

Andaya said the top 50 delinquent agencies posted arrears amounting to P913 million as of June. They include local government units and other government corporations which do not get direct Congress-approved allocations such as the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office (PCSO).

The PCSO had the infamous distinction of being second in the list with P108.6 million in phone bill arrears.

Andaya said they are now finding out how the agencies were able to accumulate "this mountain of a phone bill" when annual national budgets have allocations for "rational and normal phone usage."

For this year, P1.613 billion was allocated for agencies in the national budget for "communications expenses" where phone use payments are taken.

In 2002, the allocated amount for communications was P1.710 billion; in the year 2000, P1.510 billion. But in the proposed 2004 national budget, P1.667 billion was allocated.

"Talk ní text cravings of employees issued with government-owned mobile phones must be curbed to prevent atrociously high taxpayers-charged phone bills," Andaya said.

Others in the top 50 list included the Bureau of Internal Revenue with P58.2 million of unpaid phone bills; Philippine National Police at P57.6 million; Department of Public Works and Highways-Traffic Engineering Center, P53.1 million; Social Security System, P52.8 million; Government Service Insurance System, P21.6 million; Ninoy Aquino International Airport, P20.9 million; Department of the Interior and Local Government, P19. 2 million and DPWH at tenth slot with P15.8 million.

Others include the Department of Education with P15.3 million; Department of Health, P15.1 million; Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas, P14.6 million; Senate, P14.4 million; University of the Philippines, P14.3 million; Department of Trade and Industry, P13.6 million; Department of Transportation and Communication, P13.3 million; Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp., P12.4 million; Department of Agriculture, P12.4 million; Department of Environment and Natural Resources, P12.4 million; National Food Authority, P12 million; Department of Foreign Affairs, P12 million; National Power Corp., P11.5 million; Philippine Information Agency, P11.1 million; Department of Agrarian Reform, P11 million; Department of Tourism, P10.3 million;

Department of Labor and Employment, P9.9 million; Department of National Defense, P9.4 million; Development Bank of the Philippines, P8.7 million; Department of Finance, P8 million; Bureau of Fire Protection, P7.7 million; Philippine Air Force, P7.6 million; Supreme Court, P7.4 million; Bureau of Broadcast, P7.1 million; Air Transportation Office, P6.9 million; Land Registration Authority, P6.2 million; Department of Social Welfare and Development, P5.2 million; Bureau of Post, P4.8 million; Commission on Elections, P4.8 million and DENR-National Capital Region office at P4.7 million unpaid phone bills.

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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