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Lacson: Arroyo’s last-minute tinkering doomed budget

The P3.8-trillion national budget for 2019 is now “doomed” after Speaker Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo unlawfully realigned hundreds of millions of pesos for health facilities to her “favored” congressmen, Sen. Panfilo Lacson said on Tuesday.

But Rep. Rolando Andaya Jr., House appropriations committee chair, said Arroyo had no hand in supposed last-minute adjustments in the still-unsigned 2019 budget bill.

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“The Senate President and the Speaker are not directly involved in the bicameral committee discussion. Responsibility rests on the bicam conferees,” Andaya said in a statement.

Lacson repeated his accusation that Arroyo “manipulated” the spending measure after the House of Representatives and the Senate had already ratified its final version on Feb. 8. The President has yet to sign the bill.

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In Malacañang, presidential spokesperson Salvador Panelo said Arroyo had told him that, contrary to Lacson’s allegation, the ratified 2019 national budget was intact and unchanged

Panelo reiterated that the President would review the measure before signing it.

Itemizing lump sums

Andaya said the delay in the transmittal of the general appropriations bill to Malacañang resulted in the House “itemizing lump-sum appropriations” in the ratified version without departing from the one approved by the two chambers.

Lacson said the former President’s intervention might further defer the bill’s enactment, which had prompted the Duterte administration to operate on a reenacted budget since the start of the year.

“(E)xercising this latest brazen, illegal act after the bicameral committee report has been adopted and ratified by (Congress) smacks of grave abuse of discretion on the part of Speaker Arroyo,” the senator said in a text message.

No unlawful amendments

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“The 2019 national budget is doomed, but not to our own liking,” Lacson said. He added that Arroyo flouted Section 26, Article VI of the 1987 Constitution that prohibited any amendment to proposed bills already approved by Congress.

In denying Lacson’s claim, Andaya said “the proposed general appropriations act is a product of both the Senate and the House of Representatives. I believe that we follow the same rules and procedures in crafting the national budget.”

“We believe that by detailing the items in the budget, by enumerating what will be funded, projects and programs, per agency and by district, will be clear and evident,” the Camarines Sur representative said.

If the procedure being undertaken by the House was illegal, then the Senate was equally guilty had it itemized the senators’ pet amendments to the budget, Andaya said.

“We have been insisting to our friends in the Senate to fully disclose the authorship and details of the Senate amendments to the budget,” he said.

Clear the air

Andaya proposed a joint conference with his Senate counterpart, finance panel chair Sen. Loren Legarda, “to clear the air” and to identify each and every amendment to the proposed general appropriations act.

“After all, transparency and accountability is the name of the game,” he said.

Lacson said he was confident that his fellow senators would support his opinion that what the Speaker did was clearly unconstitutional and inappropriate.

“It is basic in our legislative process that the House as a body has the sole power to make the amendments, not the Speaker, and certainly not after the ratification of the bicameral report,” Lacson said.

Citing information provided by some congressmen, the senator claimed Arroyo allotted to select House members projects amounting to P25 million each under the Health Facilities Enhancement Program (HFEP) of the Department of Health, including P2.5 million for the procurement of an ambulance.

He said those who did not support Arroyo’s election as head of the 292-member chamber were given only P8 million.

Health appropriations

Arroyo unseated then Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez, one of President Rodrigo Duterte’s most trusted political allies, just moments before the President delivered his third State of the Nation Address in July last year.

“(Arroyo) has no business or legal authority to prepare and impose the menu list of the Department of Health appropriations for (HFEP),” Lacson said.

“I will raise a big legal issue before my colleagues in the (Senate regarding) this latest scheme that our House counterparts, led by their Speaker, are resorting to, in order to manipulate the ratified bicameral committee report,” he said.

Thoroughly scrutinized

The changes in the budget, Lacson added, affected the HFEP projects earmarked for the legislative district of at least 62 congressmen.

Asked how he would go about the matter, Lacson said he would urge Senate President Vicente Sotto III not to sign the enrolled spending bill until they have thoroughly scrutinized the documents that would be submitted for the President’s signature.

“We will insist that the enrolled bill is compliant and a faithful reproduction of the bicameral report. That is the bottom line,” he said.

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TAGS: 2019 national budget, budget insertions, Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, Panfilo Lacson, pork insertions, Rolando Andaya Jr.
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