Diokno defends House prerogative to insert funds for projects
Budget Secretary Benjamin Diokno on Monday defended the “prerogative” of members of Congress to realign funds for their pet projects in the proposed P3.8-trillion national budget amid allegations of last-minute insertions in the spending bill.
“I am not saying it’s not pork, but that’s their prerogative,” Diokno told reporters in the Senate.
Pork finances pet projects of lawmakers, which are sources of kickbacks for them.
“The House may introduce changes to the budget, while the role of the Senate is to propose amendments or to concur with the bill as prepared by the House,” Diokno said.
He said the House of Representatives was within its rights to amend the national expenditure program in drafting the general appropriations bill, which would then be transmitted to the Senate for its scrutiny.
He admitted that the House members who made significant changes to the budget proposal had not consulted the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) at all.
“There was no consultation, but that’s their prerogative,” he said, noting that once the measure was passed and transmitted to the executive branch for signing, the President could still exercise his veto power.
Diokno has been summoned to the “Question Hour” at the House of Representatives on Tuesday to explain the supposed “insertions” amounting to P52 billion for certain legislative districts, which lawmakers had blamed for the delay in the approval of the proposed budget for next year.
In a letter to Speaker Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo dated Dec. 7, the budget chief asked for another date for his appearance to “enable the DBM to gather the necessary information and undertake coordination with the other agencies concerned.”
But House Minority Leader Danilo Suarez said the chamber had decided to deny Diokno’s request as it was already set to go on Christmas break on Wednesday.
Diokno said the DBM did not introduce amendments to the original proposal, as some House leaders had claimed.
“Once the President submits the budget, that’s it. There are no insertions. That’s called the President’s budget,” he said.
Sen. Panfilo Lacson earlier disclosed that districts of Speaker Arroyo and House Majority Leader Rolando Andaya Jr. were allocated P2.4 billion and P1.9 billion in funding as a result of last-minute amendments to the general appropriations bill.
House leaders later defended the realignments, arguing that Arroyo’s district only ranked 99th among lawmakers with the highest budget allocations.
Lacson said the lawmakers’ practice of making insertions in the budget for pet projects — without consulting the agencies concerned — had resulted in projects being implemented inefficiently, if at all.
He noted that each Filipino now owed P71,000, up from about P60,000 four years ago, largely due corruption involving pork.
In a post on Twitter, the senator said: “2019: Year of the Earth Pig. Brace yourselves for more pork.”
“The coming year may be a happy one only for those who continue to benefit from the pork barrel system — and a burdensome one for the rest of the Filipinos,” he said on Monday.
Responding to Lacson’s lament about the national debt growing to P71,000 per Filipino, Diokno said the metric was not important.
“What’s more important is the debt-to-GDP (gross domestic product) ratio, which means how much we owe relative to the size of the economy? Right now, that’s about 40 percent. That’s better than usual requirement,” he said.
Lacson said it would have been better if the borrowings resulted in development projects whose benefits people could actually feel.
“But if taxpayers’ money is lost due to corruption and inefficiency, that is sad,” he added.
As it is, the Duterte administration is forced to impose more taxes to generate more revenue to pay off the debts, he said.
Had development projects been properly implemented, each of the 100-million-plus Filipinos today would have a much lighter debt.
To illustrate his point, Lacson cited the findings of the Commission on Audit (COA) for 2017 that some P583 billion for implementing projects was tagged as questionable.
“Why did COA tag such an amount as questionable? There was no consultation between the executive and the legislative in implementing projects,” he said. —With a report from Marlon Ramos
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