House leaders feud over P90-B pork
MANILA, Philippines — As President Rodrigo Duterte reviews the 2019 budget, a row is simmering in the ranks of the House of Representatives over the distribution of P90 billion in pork allegedly diverted by the leaders to their allies in the chamber.
Over the weekend, House leaders traded barbs and accusations about the “unconstitutional amendments” that supposedly benefited districts of their allies at the expense of their other colleagues for political reasons.
Camarines Sur Rep. Luis Raymund Villafuerte Jr., a vice chair of the House appropriations panel, accused his peers led by his political nemesis, fellow Camarines Sur Rep. Rolando Andaya Jr., of tinkering with the budget after ratification by Congress, supporting an allegation earlier made by senators.
“[Official] records would show that over P90 billion in public works and health funds for programs under the ratified [General Appropriations Bill] 2019 that were originally intended for [more than] 80 districts were illegally realigned during the break and allocated to other districts, particularly to those of favored lawmakers,” Villafuerte said.
Majority Leader Fredenil Castro pushed back, charging Villafuerte was only making noise because the House leadership diverted funds that would have gone to Villafuerte’s district and put the money elsewhere.
“Based on our records, Representative Villafuerte was allocated P2.7 billion by the previous House leadership. Of this amount, P1.2 billion was included in the P75-billion insertion by the former DBM (Department of Budget Management] boss (Benjamin Diokno), which congressmen questioned and opposed during the budget deliberation,” Castro said.
The P3.8-trillion spending bill was transmitted to Malacañang last week after months of delay resulting from a disagreement between the senators and House members over the postratification changes made by the House, which some of the senators, including Sen. Panfilo Lacson, branded as pork.
The Senate leadership, under pressure from President Duterte, capitulated to calls to sign off on the budget but expressed “strong reservations” against the House amendments, particularly on public works and health funding that was to go to certain districts.
Senate President Vicente Sotto III signed and endorsed the bill with an advice to the President to veto a portion of the budget containing the House realignments.
It appeared that the problem had been resolved until Villafuerte spoke out last week against the House leadership’s actions, saying they “had illegally realigned public works and other program funds for the benefit of [selected] congress[men].”
But Castro suggested it was just sour grapes.
“We can no longer allow the old practice of the previous House leadership, which dispenses programs and projects based on loyalties and votes on legislative measures. That was the reason why there were zero allocation for several congressional districts before,” Castro said.
Besides Villafuerte, “more than two dozen select congressmen were also allocated huge allocations ranging from P3 billion to P8 billion per district by the previous House leaders,” Castro said, referring to former Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez and his allies.
Responding on Sunday, Villafuerte said: “This is baloney from a political chameleon like him.”
“First, as I said, my district deserves such funds as these were legit projects under the [national expenditure program] that President Duterte submitted to the Congress after his third [State of the Nation]. There was nothing hanky panky about this,” he said.
‘Fake 2019 budget’
“Representative Castro should be reminded that it is the House leadership that had tried to pull a fast one on our people by initially submitting a fake 2019 budget to the Palace,” Villafuerte said.
Andaya earlier said the House leadership made the changes to make the budget “equitable” to all regardless of political affiliation or their vote on key legislation.
Denying the senators’ claim that the House amendments were basically pork, Andaya said the chamber only itemized lump-sum appropriations in the budget, a role he said Congress was authorized to perform.
In a 2013 ruling, the Supreme Court defined pork as “lump-sum, discretionary funds primarily intended for local projects, and utilized through the respective participations of the legislative and executive branches of government, including its members.”
The tribunal struck down all iterations of pork, including “all informal practices of similar import and effect, which the court similarly deems to be acts of grave abuse of discretion amounting to lack or excess of jurisdiction.”
On Saturday, House members were informed that the President would sign the budget bill this week, according to Zambales Rep. Cheryl Deloso-Montalla.
“We were given advice that any time soon, the President [would sign] it,” Montalla said.
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