Sotto ‘tired’ of pork issues, threatens to reenact 2018 budget
Senate President Vicente Sotto III on Wednesday threatened to pull out the Senate version of the draft P3.8-trillion spending bill from the deliberations of the bicameral committee, a move that highlighted the friction among pro-administration legislators over the national budget.
The passage of the budget has been stalled since December, following allegations that billions of pesos had been earmarked for questionable government projects.
Sotto’s threat raised the specter of a reenacted budget as the Senate and the House of Representatives panels prepared to resume their 2019 budget discussions at Manila Polo Club in Makati City.
It came a day after Sen. Panfilo Lacson disclosed that some senators made compromise deals to protect P23 billion in “individual amendments” for infrastructure projects that may be regarded as pork.
Sotto said he would direct Sen. Loren Legarda, chair of the Senate finance committee, to withdraw the Senate’s version of the expenditure program and opt for a reenacted budget.
“I hope that [this] will erase all doubts and allegations of pork and other so-called insertions in the budget,” Sotto said in a text message to reporters.
“I’m sick and tired of the allegations,” he said.
Pork, known erstwhile as the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF), is a lump sum appropriation that lawmakers had used to bankroll their pet projects.
In 2013, the Supreme Court declared the graft-laden PDAF as unconstitutional.
Lacson said he would support the Senate president.
“He (Sotto) must be as frustrated as I am, as well as most of our like-minded colleagues, that pork has not left the annual budget even after the [Supreme Court] ruling outlawing the same in a landmark decision,” Lacson told the Inquirer.
Sotto allayed fears that a reenacted budget might lead to the postponement of the May elections for lack of funding.
“The issue about the elections is just an excuse. It’s in the 2018 budget,” Sotto said.
‘Build’ program may suffer
Minority Leader Franklin Drilon is opposed to a reenacted budget, while Legarda said she would consider Sotto’s statement.
Sen. Ralph Recto said a reenacted budget “will not be good for job creation and will stall the growth of the economy,” adding that President Duterte’s “Build, Build, Build” program would also suffer.
Opposition Sen. Francis Pangilinan said he was against a reenacted budget as it would give Malacañang “a blank check in an election year.”
Reacting to Sotto’s statements, the leaders of the House said they also opposed a reenacted budget.
Speaker Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo told reporters she wanted the proposed P3.8-trillion budget approved by Congress “before it’s too late.”
House appropriations panel chair Rolando Andaya Jr., head of the House contingent in the conference committee, rejected Sotto’s proposal, saying disputes among senators over the budget was an internal Senate affair.
“Our position remains unchanged: We want a new budget,” he said in a statement.
The government has been operating on a reenacted budget since January.
The two chambers are under time pressure to pass the new budget before Congress goes on a break on Feb. 6, just before the campaign season begins.
Sotto accused the House contingent of taking a “hardball” stance that made it difficult for both panels to reach common ground.
“What do we prefer? A reenacted budget or a budget [tainted with] so many allegations?” Sotto said.
He believed that Mr. Duterte would support his suggestion.
“As I have said, he has a disgust on the issue of corruption. If he continues to hear those allegations, he may just agree with my suggestion,” Sotto said. –With a report from DJ Yap
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.