Lacson: P20-billion pork in 2020 budget
MANILA, Philippines — It’s not pork-free after all.
Sen. Panfilo Lacson on Monday said the “parked” allocations totaling more than P20 billion in the House of Representatives’ version of the P4.1-trillion national budget for 2020 were actually pork as defined by a Supreme Court ruling in 2013.
Lacson, who has been leading the fight to trim pork from the government’s annual spending program, made the clarification after initially saying that the General Appropriations Bill (GAB) that the House transmitted to the Senate last month was pork-free.
Pork allocations fund pet projects of lawmakers and are a source of kickbacks.
Lacson pointed out that the parked funds were actually lump-sum allocations, which the high court had also declared a violation of the 1987 Constitution.
‘Parked’ lump-sum funds
“The only definition of pork by congressmen is the postlegislation [intervention]. In this case, the ‘parked’ [allocations] were lump sum,” Lacson told reporters.
“That’s also considered pork as per the Supreme Court ruling, which said that if [the budgeting] amounts to abuse of discretion, it’s still pork. If it’s lump sum, then it’s still [prone] to abuse of discretion,” he said.
The senator surmised that certain House members were behind the parking of funds.
He said it was possible that the congressmen would later realign these allotments to their chosen departments or projects during the House-Senate conference.
“It has become P2P (‘park’ to ‘pork’),” Lacson told the Inquirer in a text message.
“What’s worrisome is that after they approved the House version on third and final reading to be transmitted to us, they asked the congressmen to submit individual amendments. So we can only suspect that they might introduce [the amendment] during the bicameral committee [conference],” he added.
Lacson earlier said P10.4 billion worth of questionable projects were stashed in the Department of Public Works and Highways while another P4 billion was hidden under the “Other Financial Assistance to LGUs (local government units)” in the budget of the Department of the Interior and Local Government.
Among the suspicious projects that the senator found was the P507-million rehabilitation of Kennon Road, one of the major roads connecting Baguio City to the lowland areas of northern Luzon.
Lacson said projects covered by parked funds had no specified description and details, which would make it easy for corrupt public officials to earmark the money for dubious purposes.
“There are districts [which have parked funds]. We can only assume that congressmen inserted them in [their] districts,” he said.
Senators rallied behind their colleague in calling out the House leadership for allowing budget items that were not clearly spelled out in the National Expenditure Program that Malacañang had submitted to Congress.
Senate President Vicente Sotto III said the chamber would ask officials of the Department of Budget and Management why they included budget items without clear project descriptions as mandated by law.
“They should be able to explain the purpose of the allocations, where they intend to spend the money and who put them there,” Sotto said.
Earlier, Sotto said the proposed 2020 budget might be approved next week if the Senate would simply adopt the version transmitted by the House.
Sen. Christopher “Bong” Go also voiced his opposition to the supposed attempt by some congressmen to set aside billions of pesos for questionable projects.
“I will not allow it. I’m in favor of a cholesterol-free budget,” the junior senator said.
Sen. Sherwin Gatchalian echoed Lacson’s view, saying all allotments in the government spending measure should be itemized.
In Malacañang, presidential spokesperson Salvador Panelo said President Duterte would do away with the alleged P20 billion worth of “questionable projects” that were parked in the proposed budget for 2020.
“Tell Senator Lacson to point out what specific item in the GAA (General Appropriations Act) the P20 billion has been ‘parked’ and the President will remove it,” Panelo said in a text message.
Before Lacson changed his tune about the parked funds, Deputy Speaker Luis Raymund Villafuerte Jr. on Monday said he felt “vindicated” by the senator’s new assessment that the 2020 budget bill was free of congressional pork insertions.
Villafuerte thanked Lacson for his “objective assessment” of the GAB, which the House passed on third reading on Sept. 20 and later transmitted to the Senate for its concurrence.
The Camarines Sur representative said the senator’s words were a “tribute to the transformative leadership” of Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano who “made sure that the proposed budget bill was passed in a highly transparent manner and bereft of pork, illegal insertions and ‘parking’ of funds.”
House Majority Leader Martin Romualdez also praised Lacson for recognizing the House’s efforts to keep the 2020 budget pork-free.
“This bolsters our position that what we approved and transmitted to the Senate is a constitutionally compliant GAB,” Romualdez said. —WITH REPORTS FROM JULIE M. AURELIO AND DJ YAP
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