Lacson: Pork per House member increased to P160 million
The P3.8-trillion proposed budget for 2019 appeared headed toward congressional approval on Thursday although still larded with hundreds of millions of pesos in pork allocations for members of the House of Representatives.
Sen. Panfilo “Ping” Lacson, a member of the Senate panel on the budget conference committee, said on Thursday members of the House were actually getting P160 million, and not just P60 million, worth of projects in the spending bill approved by the House.
Lacson said he found out about the pork increase just on Wednesday.
It looked like the budget bill would not be pork-free but “pork-laden,” he said.
“If the [House conference] panel will not budge on the minimum standard P160 million earmarks for all their members, and the Senate agrees in the usual reciprocal consensus fashion, then I’m afraid we will have a pork-laden 2019 national budget,” Lacson said in a text message.
Malacañang is “eagerly” waiting for the passage of the budget bill, presidential spokesperson Salvador Panelo told reporters on Thursday.
Panelo said the budget standoff was resolved on Wednesday night with the congressional leaders’ announcement that they would pass the spending bill.
The Duterte administration is operating on the reenacted 2018 budget, also about P3.8 trillion, as a result of the snag over pork.
Panelo said operating on a reenacted budget would “hurt our economy.”
Lacson said the National Expenditure Program (NEP), which was prepared by the executive branch, had P100 million worth of projects embedded in it for every member of the House.
The allocation consisted of P70 million in “hard” projects, which usually refer to infrastructure projects, and P30 million in “soft” projects, which usually cover financial assistance programs.
Speaker Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo then added P60 million to the allocation for her colleagues, Lacson said.
The boost consisted of P50 million for hard and P10 million for soft projects, he said.
“Sixty million pesos is the second tranche distributed by GMA. I just found out yesterday that there’s P100 million per congressman already embedded in the NEP. Broken down, 70 hard and 30 soft, plus 50 hard and 10 soft under GMA’s initiative,” he explained.
For Lacson, it was “ironic” that the situation had gotten worse after the Supreme Court declared the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) unconstitutional.
P10-B pork barrel scam
The PDAF was a pork barrel that channeled funds to congressional districts until the P10-billion pork scam allegedly masterminded by businesswoman Janet Lim-Napoles erupted into a scandal in 2013.
With both chambers of Congress spattered, the Supreme Court reversed two previous rulings and struck down the PDAF as unconstitutional.
The PDAF, however, was not so bad, according to Lacson.
At least during that time, he said, the allocation from the PDAF was spelled out in the budget.
“From a fixed lump sum rate of P200 million per senator and P70 million per congressman, legislators easily found a way to go around the landmark ruling,” Lacson said, referring to the strategy employed by the porkers after the fall of the PDAF.
Lacson said he wished the Senate could insist on a pork-free budget.
“If only the Senate had that moral ascendancy to insist on a pork-free national budget, hopefully, we can have a genuine check and balance in the bicameral conference,” he said.
Lacson earlier said several senators introduced P23 billion in individual amendments to the 2019 budget bill that he considered to be pork allocations.
Minority Leader Franklin Drilon, a member of the Senate panel on the conference committee, said that going by the discussions on Wednesday night, the 2019 budget bill was headed toward congressional approval.
But for Drilon, allegations of pork insertions have not been sufficiently dealt with.
“Except for the deletion of the dredging items, substantial individual insertions in the [Department of Public Works and Highways’] budget are still there,” he said.
Drilon said the conference committee would wait for the report of the small committee formed by Sen. Loren Legarda, head of the Senate panel, and her counterpart from the House, Camarines Sur Rep. Rolando Andaya Jr., on the fate of these funds.
Withdraw Senate bill
Allegations of pork insertions in the budget had prompted Senate President Vicente Sotto III to suggest that the Senate withdraw its budget bill and push for a reenacted budget.
Malacañang said no.
But Sotto said that unless “unexplained amendments” were clarified, he preferred a reenacted budget.
“I will push for a reenacted budget and expect my colleagues to support [this],” Sotto said in a text message.
But he said he would not say at this point that this was the position of the Senate because some of his colleagues were still weighing the possibilities and repercussions.
Several senators earlier said they were inclined to support Sotto.
The conference committee continued deliberations on the spending bill on Wednesday after Sotto suggested withdrawing the Senate version.
Members of the committee said they were determined to produce their version of the budget bill, and were continuing to reconcile conflicting provisions in the Senate and House versions of the proposal. —With a report from Christine O. Avendaño
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