Senators to oppose P55-B pork in budget
Senators on Tuesday vowed to fight for the removal of billions in pork from the P3.757-trillion proposed national budget for 2019 once they get their hands on the House of Representatives’ version of the spending bill.
Sen. Panfilo Lacson, who has long been saying that the 2019 budget is riddled with funds for pet projects of lawmakers, said the squabble among House members over P55 billion in pork would make it easier for the Senate to identify and delete the funds.
Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon also said he would block the approval of a budget larded with pork, a source of kickbacks for lawmakers.
“I will oppose the passage of the budget and filibuster, if needed, if these pork barrel allocations/insertions remain,” Drilon said in a text message to reporters.
The massive appropriations for the representatives’ pet projects, came to light after House leaders bickered over the proposed allocations.
Davao City Rep. Karlo Nograles, the House appropriations committee chair, reportedly had a shouting match with Camarines Sur Rep. Rolando Andaya Jr. after the House majority leader asked Nograles to sign a committee report on the proposed budget that deleted P55 billion in funding for various pet projects, including airports.
The controversy ended on Tuesday, with Andaya leading the realignment of the suspect funds.
In a radio interview, Lacson said he was thankful for this development, in a way, because it would be easier to find where the pork had been lodged.
“My staff was happy because their job got a bit easier,” he said.
The pork funds have been lodged with the Department of Education and the Department of Transportation, he said.
Lacson also insisted that the funds for the congressmen’s projects constituted pork, amid the contention of other parties that pork referred only to funding for projects identified postlegislation, and that it was part of lawmakers’ power to propose amendments to the budget.
The senator said the Supreme Court ruling that invalidated the graft-ridden pork barrel system mentioned that all informal practices that produced the same effect could also be considered pork barrel.
“So if [a project] is identified by a member of Congress and he says it is his project, we can call that pork,” he said.
Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea on Tuesday denied there were insertions worth P55 billion in the proposed budget for next year.
“That is not true,” Medialdea told Inquirer.net.
Presidential spokesperson Harry Roque also denied there were insertions in the proposed 2019 budget.
“If it is true that there are items which were not in the [National Expenditure Program], then we do not know where that came from,” Roque said.
The House stood firm in exercising its power of the purse by realigning almost P52 billion in proposed allocations of Malacañang for the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) next year to various state agencies.
Andaya moved to convene the House into a committee of the whole to modify the report prepared by Nograles.
The P52-billion fund was taken from the proposed budget of the DPWH for the country’s 15 regions and was contained in the original budget proposal for 2019, an election year.
“We did not reduce anything. We just moved [the funds] to other departments,” Andaya said during the deliberations.
“We will actually be strengthening [government] programs. But there is an amount, equivalent to less than 2 percent of the budget, just a drop in the bucket, which we will move to other presidential programs,” he said.
Andaya said the transfer of state funds would be “done in a manner that is transparent, open and compliant with the laws of the land, including recent Supreme Court decisions on public expenditures.”
The biggest amount was deducted from the Mimaropa region, which suffered a staggering P10.4 billion in budget cut.
The Bicol region, the home region of Vice President Leni Robredo, lost P9.2 billion in proposed funds for various infrastructure projects.
Andaya’s action ended the two-day impasse on the plenary deliberations on the national budget.
After just 30 minutes, a majority of the 198 lawmakers present agreed to adopt Andaya’s resolution for the budget realignment by viva voce, or voice vote.
Earlier, a source in the House said the P55 billion was not pork but funds “parked” in the budget of several agencies.
A congressman from Luzon, who agreed to talk on condition of anonymity, said the funds hidden in the appropriations for certain agencies had been there long before Speaker Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo took over the helm at the House in July.
The lawmaker said the funds were coursed through several congressmen, some of whom were supposedly unaware that billions of pesos from the state coffers had been earmarked for projects in their legislative districts.
“Those funds had been placed in the proposed budget during the previous leadership in the House. You can say that the money was just being parked there,” the lawmaker said.
Asked who made the arrangement, the lawmaker said: “[Budget Secretary Benjamin Diokno] will be able to explain that. The previous House leadership should also be asked about that.” —With reports from Christine O. Avendaño and Nestor Corrales