Lacson: Arroyo allotted P95B in infra funds to her allies
Speaker Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo unlawfully funneled nearly P95 billion in infrastructure funds to the districts of her allies in the House after Congress had ratified the final version of the P3.8-trillion budget for 2019, Sen. Panfilo Lacson claimed on Sunday.
In a text message to the Inquirer, Lacson said the funds were taken from the approved budget for road projects of the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) and for the construction of health centers by the Department of Health (DOH).
Lacson said at least P79.7 billion in DPWH funds, the bulk of which was classified under the department’s “major final output,” was realigned to the former President’s known allies in the House for projects they themselves had arbitrarily identified.
Another P15.1 billion earmarked for the Health Facilities Enhancement Program of the DOH was also given to Arroyo’s favored congressmen, Lacson said.
“The P79.7 billion is the amount that they transferred or realigned from some districts to other districts, or from some of the 62 congressmen to the others allied with [the Speaker],” Lacson said.
“As I said, the total amount of projects arbitrarily identified by legislators is [about] P95 billion, which may be classified as pork,” he added.
Lacson said Arroyo’s acts clearly violated the 2013 Supreme Court ruling that struck down as unconstitutional the pork barrel system and the lump-sum appropriations for lawmakers.
He said the figures came out during the presentation of the Senate Legislative Budget Research and Monitoring Office, whose staff members were involved in the preparation of the budget, to Senate leaders on Saturday.
Besides Lacson, also present during the presentation were Senate President Vicente Sotto III, Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon and Sen. Loren Legarda, chair of the Senate finance committee.
Lacson said Arroyo’s arbitrariness in making changes to the national budget might delay President Duterte’s signing of the spending measure for 2019 until she relinquished her post after midterm elections in May.
Arroyo is serving her third and last term as representative of Pampanga’s second congressional district.
Old budget up to August
“All indications point to a reenacted budget up to July or August this year when [Arroyo] is no longer Speaker,” Lacson said.
“Unless she agrees that the ratified bicameral report will no longer be altered or amended … the Senate will stand [its] ground and adhere to the standard legislative process and what the Constitution so provides,” he added.
As he had previously pointed out, Lacson reiterated that Section 26, Article IV of the 1987 Constitution explicitly mandates that “upon the last reading of a bill, no further amendment shall be allowed.”
In a radio interview, Lacson said the senators would ask the President himself to intervene and immediately end the stalemate between the House and the Senate on the national budget, which had yet to reach Mr. Duterte’s office more than a month after it was ratified on Feb. 8.
He also said that Sotto had spoken with the President about the matter during the state dinner Malacañang hosted for visiting Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad last week.
During their conversation, he said the Senate President confided to Mr. Duterte his reservations about signing the approved budget measure after the House leadership admitted to tinkering with the documents.
Senate ‘is right’
Sotto, he added, was worried that he might earn the ire of Malacañang, but he was told by the President to just “handle [the situation] and do what you think is right.”
Said Lacson: “He said the President clearly understood why he did not want to sign [the enrolled bill]. It was short of saying that Malacañang is on our side on this issue because we are right.”
Lacson also refuted the claim of Camarines Sur Rep. Rolando Andaya Jr., the House appropriations committee chair, that Arroyo only wanted to itemize certain contents of the ratified budget.
He said unbundling the approved budget for government projects was tantamount to amending what the legislators had agreed on.
“It’s because you are altering the bicameral report. In the bicameral report, [the budget] was lump sum, but you itemized it after [approving the] report. So that’s amendment,” Lacson said.
Pot calling kettle black
Andaya lashed out at Senate leaders for questioning the changes made by the House to the budget.
“[The] senators are desperately looking for ghosts in the 2019 General Appropriations Act (GAA). The problem, they seem to find ghosts everywhere except [in] their own house,” Andaya said in a statement on Sunday night.
“If postbicam itemization of lump-sum budget by the House of Representatives is unconstitutional or irregular, what about postbicam realignment by the Senate of P75 billion in the national budget?” he said, suggesting the senators’ accusations were akin to the pot calling the kettle black.
“It is now the turn of the senators to explain to the public the P75-billion realignment made by the Senate after both chambers [had] ratified the 2019 GAA,” he said.
The realignment, according to Andaya, “is also nowhere to be found in the bicameral conference committee report.”
“Worse, unlike in the House of Representatives, there are no proponents for the Senate realignment. Meaning, the funds are parked somewhere in the national budget. This is clearly parked pork,” Andaya said.
“The senators may try to justify the realignment by describing them again as institutional amendments. But how can they describe the Senate’s P25-billion realignment that was parked in the DPWH budget? Still institutional amendments?” he said. —With a report from DJ Yap
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