Lacson bares plan to give House deputies P1.5B each
MANILA, Philippines — Plans are afoot to give all 22 deputy speakers an additional allocation of P1.5 billion each, while each member of the House of Representatives would supposedly get P700 million, Sen. Panfilo Lacson said on Monday, citing information from several lawmakers.
“I hope that does not push through because that was a report that was transmitted to my office by some congressmen themselves,” he told reporters.
But he would still have to look into these reports to validate them, he added.
With 300 House members, these could be P54 billion “in pork,” Lacson said.
Pork, a source of kickbacks, refers to all forms of discretionary and lump-sum items in the national budget allocated to lawmakers for their pet projects.
If the plan pushes through, it would be a “bit too much for members of the House to be given that much appropriation,” Lacson said.
House Senior Deputy Majority Leader Jesus Crispin Remulla on Monday blasted Lacson for “trying to muddy the waters” with unsubstantiated accusations, describing the senator’s allegations as baseless and unwarranted.
“It seems he does not want the House to succeed,” the Cavite lawmaker told the Inquirer by phone.
Remulla noted that the House leadership was invigorated by the speedy passage of the 2020 budget, and Lacson was trying to minimize its achievement.
“He wants to lift the Senate up at the expense of the House. He does not want us to succeed,” he said.
The House on Friday approved the 2020 general appropriations bill on final reading, two weeks ahead of schedule.
Remulla said he was inviting Lacson’s researchers to sit down with House leaders to pore over the 2020 budget bill to ease the senator’s concerns about pork allocations.
Lacson said giving each deputy speaker P1.5 billion and each member of the House P700 million was supposedly the agreement being made so that there would be no squabbling.
While Lacson was talking about P1.5 billion for each deputy speaker, Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano was referring to an extra P1.6 billion for the chamber.
Cayetano on Monday took exception to reports that the House was seeking an extra P1.6 billion in its 2020 budget proposal to fund additional deputy speakerships he created to accommodate rival political factions in the chamber.
He branded as “fake news” the reports suggesting that the extra funding would only go to the additional posts that brought the number of deputy speakers to 22—from only 12 in the previous Congress.
Following a bruising speakership fight in July, Cayetano, who entered a term-sharing deal with Marinduque Rep. Lord Allan Velasco, sought to create new positions in the House to accommodate competing political parties.
He named some of the most influential lawmakers as his deputies, including Davao City Rep. Paolo Duterte, Camarines Sur Rep. Luis Raymund Villafuerte, Cibac Rep. Eddie Villanueva, Batangas Rep. Vilma Santos-Recto, Mandaluyong Rep. Neptali Gonzales II, Pampanga Rep. Aurelio Gonzales Jr. and 1-Pacman Rep. Michael Romero.
The number of vice chairs of the appropriations committee also rose to 37, while that of the ways and means panel went up to 59.
Speaking to reporters, Cayetano said the proposed P1.6-billion fund to augment the House’s P14-billion allocation for next year would go to a number of important items, including new committees and vice chairmanships.
On Friday, the chair of the House accounts panel sought additional funding for the 300-strong chamber to cover extra expenses that were not included in the budget proposal.
Cavite Rep. Abraham Tolentino made the request during plenary deliberations on the proposed P23-billion budget of the entire Congress, including the Senate with P7.4 billion.
Besides the new posts and committees, Cayetano said the extra funding would also go to research, the anticipated adjustment of salaries of employees and career officials, and enhancement of House facilities.
While the House has approved the spending bill for 2020 on third reading, it, however, will still accept about P10 billion worth of amendments to the budget measure before transmitting it to the Senate for its concurrence, according to Cayetano.
Passage of the 2019 budget was delayed by more than four months after the House, Senate and Cabinet traded accusations of making pork insertions in the spending bill, forcing the government to operate on a reenacted budget.
Lacson, who had cited what he deemed pork in previous spending plans, also took note of earlier reports quoting Albay Rep. Joey Salceda that lawmakers would get P100 million worth of projects for their districts, with the projects included by the executive departments themselves.
“It should be need-based and priority-based, because there are districts that would need more than other districts,” he said.
Salceda has since said that not all House members would be able to identify P100 million worth of projects since the needs of their districts are different.
Cayetano on Monday said it was not accurate to say each lawmaker would receive at least a P100-million allocation, since some of them had submitted proposed funding for their districts that was “much more” than that, while others sought “much less.”
“There’s no P100 million per congressman,” he told reporters in an interview. “It’s already specified per district,” he added.
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.