Lacson slams pork insertions by senators
Some senators have introduced “individual amendments” or “insertions” to the proposed budget of the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) for 2019 that might be considered pork as spelled out in a Supreme Court decision, Sen. Panfilo Lacson said on Tuesday.
The senators, according to Lacson, have resorted to reciprocal concessions to ensure that P23 billion of their pork allocations would remain untouched in the P3.8-trillion draft spending bill for 2019, which is being finalized by the conference committee.
Pork allocations are lump sums given to legislators to fund specific projects that they themselves determine, the Supreme Court said in a decision in 1993 that declared the Priority Development Assistance Fund, a pork barrel, unconstitutional.
Asked if the senators’ “individual amendments” in the 2019 spending bill could be described as pork, Lacson said: “That is a very fair statement. If something was allowed, then there was horse trading. That’s unfortunate in our budgeting process.”
Lacson insisted that most of the P190 billion in budget adjustments that the Senate had made were not pork but were “institutional amendments” based on the request of state agencies.
Rep. Rolando Andaya Jr., chair of the House appropriations committee, said on Tuesday that the Senate amendments were still considered “insertions” to the bill.
“These are all amendments, whether you call it institutional or individual or agency-requested, these are all revisions or, in layman’s terms, insertions in the national budget,” said Andaya, who also heads the House panel on the conference committee.
Lump-sum amendments introduced by the Senate exceeded P190 billion, while the House of Representatives’ proposals involved only P51 billion, Andaya told reporters.
“Those were not their only amendments. We are talking about a bigger total,” he said.
Andaya said the Senate amendments had not been broken down into specific items and were thus lump sums. “So we have to get the details.”
The House, he said, was prepared to release in public an itemized listing of its proposed amendments to the National Expenditure Program. He wished the Senate would do the same.
No moral ascendancy
Lacson said he wondered whether the Senate could fairly call out House members if they could point out that senators had P23 billion in individual amendments, which would be deemed pork.
“Neither [the Senate nor the House] has moral ascendancy over the other,” he said.
In a text message to the Inquirer, Lacson said all changes made by the Senate in the DPWH budget involved flood control projects.
Sen. Loren Legarda, Senate finance committee chair, agreed to remove P2.5 billion worth of flood control projects of the DPWH upon his request, he said.
The Senate panel will formally introduce the adjustment at the resumption of the conference committee meeting on Tuesday night.
“These projects were included in the Senate version with the intervention of the senators. How can the DPWH implement these if the department was not part of the planning?” Lacson said.
“That’s what we call pork barrel as defined by the Supreme Court ruling because these are whimsical and arbitrary. There was no consultation or consent [of the implementing agencies] before the senators put the funds,” he said.
Lacson said he stumbled upon the questionable allocation when he moved for the deletion of the additional P75 billion in the DPWH budget, which Public Works Secretary Mark Villar admitted was not part of his department’s request.
He said the presence of pork in the proposed expenditure program would make it difficult for senators to take members of the House to task for allocating pork funds in their districts.
Members of the Senate and House panels have agreed to remove funds from various desilting and dredging programs of the DPWH.
As pointed out by Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon, Lacson said dredging projects had become a major source of kickbacks for certain public officials.
“Sadly, at least 40 percent [of the project cost] goes to the deep pockets of corrupt proponents and implementors,” he said.
Drilon noted that there was no standard in measuring the volume of mud removed from bodies of water after a dredging project.
Instead of awarding contracts for dredging projects, he said it would be more prudent for the DPWH to just buy dredgers.
In a statement released late Tuesday, Andaya said the Senate sought to postpone what was supposed to be the fourth meeting of the conference committee that day to comply with the House request for an itemized listing of amendments.
“They have yet to finalize the complete details of institutional and individual amendments requested by the House conferees,” Andaya said.
The conference committee will resume session at 2 p.m. on Wednesday at Manila Polo Club in Makati City.
Congress approval of the national budget for this year has been delayed because the House took some time to submit its version of the bill to the Senate.
The national government is currently operating on the reenacted 2018 budget.
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