Senator sees little time for pork review
The Senate may run out of time to scrutinize “lump sums” and other insertions as senators struggle to meet a tight deadline to enact the proposed P3.757-trillion budget for 2019, Sen. Sherwin Gatchalian said on Sunday.
The chair of the Senate economic affairs panel said there was a need to be thorough in examining the general appropriations bill, considering last-minute amendments and insertions by the House of Representatives.
“[In] my experience, we need at least one month to discuss the budget because if we don’t examine it one by one, there may be problems, especially with lump-sum amounts,” Gatchalian said in an interview on dzBB radio.
He said the Senate would have to watch out for the lump-sum amounts and the funding of policy. “[I]t came from [the House of Representatives] and we need to be careful.”
The Senate is bracing for 12-hour workdays beginning this week as the senators try to pass the appropriations bill and ratify it before yearend to avoid a reenacted budget.
Congress is supposed to go on a break on Dec. 12, but under a revised timeline, the legislative calendar may be extended to Dec. 13 for ratification by both Houses of the budget measure.
Senate Majority Leader Juan Miguel Zubiri earlier said the Senate leadership would allot the time for careful deliberations on the budget.
“We fully respect our colleagues who want to scrutinize the budget. Our stand is to go on 12-hour days. We will not prevent them from speaking out, but we in the leadership are prepared to work 12-hour days,” he told dwIZ radio on Saturday.
House delay, pork
Sen. Panfilo Lacson earlier claimed that last-minute insertions by members of the House for their pork allocations were delaying the passage of the budget bill in the chamber.
Pork finances pet projects of lawmakers and is a source of kickbacks.
Stung by Lacson’s accusation, the House approved the budget bill on third and final reading on Nov. 20, a week before it said it would do so.
House Majority Leader Rolando Andaya Jr. denied that lawmakers’ insertions delayed the passage of the expenditure bill.
Andaya said the delays were due to belated requests of President Rodrigo Duterte and Cabinet members to set aside funds for certain projects that were not in the original budget proposal.
P60M for lawmaker
Last week, Andaya admitted that Speaker Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo had directed the allotment of at least P60 million worth of government projects for the districts or constituencies of 292 members of the House.
But he said the funds were not pork as these were not lump-sum appropriations, which the Supreme Court declared unconstitutional in 2013.
The high court declared the pork barrel Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) unconstitutional in the wake of the public uproar over the P10-billion pork barrel scam in which PDAF allocations of lawmakers were channeled to ghost projects so they could get kickbacks.
Senators’ own pet projects
Zubiri also admitted that senators also had “institutional insertions” in the budget measure for their own pet projects.
“Those things are not wrong,” he said. “In fairness to congressmen and senators, every year, we pass the budget, and every year there are amendments so there’s nothing new with this.”
Malacañang is leaving it to the lawmakers to discuss the P60-million allotment for each member of the House in the proposed budget.
In a statement, presidential spokesperson Salvador Panelo said the Palace “acknowledges the independence of Congress on these matters.”
In another statement, Panelo said Malacañang was not surprised that the Senate’s priority was not pushing for a federal form of government but ensuring that the proposed national budget for 2019 was passed.
He, however, assured the public that Charter change to pave the way for a shift to federalism remained a priority of the Duterte administration. —With a report from Julie M. Aurelio
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