House leaders bicker over ‘pork’
Sen. Panfilo Lacson may be right about “pork” in the budget after all.
A supposed attempt to defat the proposed P3.757-trillion 2019 national budget of some P55 billion in “pork” on Monday sparked a ruckus among members of the House supermajority and talk of a lawmaker’s ouster from committee chairmanship.
“We missed the near-brawl over pork in the House caucus this morning. Watch for new developments affecting a major (House) committee,” Lacson said on his Twitter account.
The senator was apparently referring to the alleged shouting match between Majority Leader Rolando Andaya Jr. and Davao City Rep. Karlo Nograles, chair of the appropriations committee, during a midmorning executive meeting on the proposed 2019 budget.
This was witnessed by Speaker Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, who presided over the meeting moments before the 292-member chamber was to start plenary deliberations on the matter.
Multiple sources confirmed Lacson’s claim. They said Andaya also traded verbal insults with fellow Camarines Sur Rep. Luis Raymund Villafuerte.
“Nograles informed members of the appropriations committee that the majority leader wanted him to sign a report on the proposed budget [that] he and the committee members did not make,” said a lawmaker, who asked not to be named for fear of reprisal from the House leadership.
“I did not prepare this committee report. You put my name here. I refuse to sign it,” another congressman quoted Nograles as telling Andaya.
The second source said the verbal tussle erupted when Nograles argued that the committee report that Andaya wanted him to sign would slash allocations for some lawmakers’ pet projects by P55 billion.
“Which congressional districts will be affected by this? You’re taking away allocations for infrastructure projects like airports from them,” Nograles reportedly said. “Why are you taking the [budget for] airports?”
At one point, the Davao lawmaker challenged Andaya to call Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea, Special Assistant to the President Christopher Lawrence “Bong” Go and the President’s economic managers to inform them that Andaya was planning to cut a substantial amount from the budget.
“Who is cutting the budget? Me? Are we in the second reading? You’re getting ahead of yourself,” Andaya supposedly told Nograles in a raised voice.
“You will not sign it? Thank you very much for refusing to sign it. It only shows that you’re hiding something,” the majority leader added.
Stalled plenary debates
The heated argument nearly cost Nograles the committee chairmanship. Quezon Rep. Danilo Suarez, the minority leader, told reporters that Nograles would be replaced within the day by another member of the appropriations committee, but this did not come to pass.
Suarez, a known close political ally of Arroyo, later retracted his statement.
The incident stalled the plenary discussions on the national budget, whose passage has already been delayed after lawmakers initially opposed the cash-based budgeting system introduced by Budget Secretary Benjamin Diokno.
Lacson had previously warned that “hundreds of billions” of pesos in pork barrel funds were still embedded in the annual budget, which Malacañang and its House allies insisted was pork-free.
Both House leaders tried to play down the incident, with Andaya dismissing insinuations that he figured in a heated exchange with Nograles, a nephew of President Rodrigo Duterte.
Andaya said that apparently there was “confusion” about how the House leadership wanted to go about allocating public funds for government projects in the next fiscal year.
He maintained that he and Arroyo did not want to reduce the budget of President Duterte and some of their colleagues.
“We’re not reducing it. We’re just merely looking at the allocations. We’re not going to have absolute budget cuts. It’s going to be the same,” Andaya said. “Necessarily, there’s going to be realignment.”
Andaya said the Speaker was “fully supportive” of his position on the matter and that she wanted the House to immediately start the plenary discussions on the budget.
Nograles declined to comment if he indeed figured in a verbal tiff with Andaya, but said he was “ready to defend the budget on the floor.”
“It’s the one which was approved by the [appropriations] committee that has been pending since last week,” he said.
Nograles sounded unperturbed by the prospect of being unseated by the majority bloc, saying it’s the committee members who will vote on the matter if at all.
He assailed Suarez for claiming that he would be replaced, pointing out that the minority leader “cannot speak for the majority coalition” in the House.
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