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Lawmakers keep P75-B pork in final spending bill

The lawmakers whom Sen. Panfilo Lacson has described as “incorrigibly insatiable” are having their way with the budget after all.

They are keeping P75 billion in pork in the final version of the P3.8-trillion national budget proposal for 2019 despite Lacson’s strident objections, according to Camarines Sur Rep. Rolando Andaya Jr., chair of the appropriations committee of the House of Representatives.

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“It’s the (Senate-House) pork,” Andaya told Inquirer editors and reporters on Wednesday night after his meeting with Sen. Loren Legarda, chair of the Senate finance committee.

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“Whatever I say now, I’m sure it will be called pork. So let’s just say it’s pork. It’s the year of the pig [anyway],” Andaya said.

The bulk of the amount, he said, would be allotted to the 23 senators, who would each receive at least P3 billion in government projects, while the 292 members of the House would “equitably share” the remaining P5 billion.

The congressmen’s share would be on top of the P160 million that Lacson earlier divulged each of them would get if President Duterte would approve the final version of the budget bill that the lawmakers prepared.

Andaya said it was he and Legarda who approved the final draft committee report prepared by the “small group” of the Senate-House conference committee that the lawmakers convened to hasten the approval of the long-stalled national spending measure.

“We will have a [national] budget on Friday,” Andaya said.

But the senators and the representatives should brace themselves for public censure of their decision, he said, pointing out that both houses of Congress had to approve the final version of the spending bill before it would be transmitted to Malacañang for President Duterte to sign.

“It’s up [to] each institution to brace [itself] for the backlash. They passed it. Why will I defend it by myself? That’s what you want to pass, then defend it,” he added.

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Violation of SC ruling

Lacson had decried the congressmen’s insistence on larding the budget with pork, which he said was in violation of a 2013 Supreme Court ruling that outlawed the pork barrel system.

On Tuesday, Lacson urged President Duterte to use his veto power to remove the pork that the “incorrigibly insatiable” congressmen had embedded in the 2019 budget.

Legarda discussed the draft report with her colleagues on Wednesday night.

Lacson said on Thursday that he had informed his colleagues that he would cast a dissenting vote at the ratification of the report on Friday.

He said he disagreed with the retention of the pork and that he hoped more senators would share his view.

“Basically, yes, the P160 million per House member plus the billion-peso insertions made by a number of their colleagues, and the P23-billion Department of Public Works and Highways insertions by a number of senators plus other insertions in different agencies have all been retained,” Lacson said.

Unconscionable realignments

“Sadly, no matter how hard I argued last night, I only have one vote, although I have good reason to believe that some like-minded colleagues are supportive of deleting all pork insertions, particularly the excessive and unconscionable realignments made not only by our [House] counterparts but by a number of our colleagues as well,” he said.

But there was a positive development, Lacson said, pointing to the deletion of appropriations for flood control projects, such as dredging and desilting and the realignment of the funds to purchase dredgers.

He said the draft report also retained the additional funds given to the Department of Health for the operation of new health centers.

Lacson said many of his institutional amendments were also retained, including funds for a 240-day-a-year feeding program for wasted and nearly wasted schoolchildren, additional allowance for teachers, allocations for veterans, additional funds requested by the judiciary, and funds for the activation of one infantry division for the Army.

Although the budget remained larded with pork, Lacson said he hoped he had contributed to the national conversation about the system that the Supreme Court had declared unconstitutional.

“More than that, hopefully, I was able to enlighten the public because of the public discourse that transpired, for or against the outlawed pork barrel. I would say we have gained some headway in this regard,” he said.

He reiterated his call to the President to exercise his veto power to remove “line items that clearly look and smell like pork.”

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TAGS: duterte, House, Loren Legarda, P3.8-trillion national budget, P75-B pork, Rep. Rolando Andaya Jr., Sen. Panfilo Lacson, Senate, Supreme Court
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