Palace vows Duterte veto after Ping finds ‘pork’
President Rodrigo Duterte will again veto any budgetary item that he finds unconstitutional, Malacañang said on Thursday after Sen. Panfilo Lacson questioned what he called last-minute insertions in the P4.1-trillion proposed spending plan for next year.
“Provisions in the budget that run counter to the Constitution will be vetoed by the President, there is no change in that policy,” presidential spokesperson Salvador Panelo said.
Mr. Duterte vetoed provisions worth P95 billion in the 2019 budget for inconsistency with his administration’s priority programs.
The rejected provisions included projects inserted by the House of Representatives and that the Senate had questioned as these were added after the ratification of the spending bill, contrary to the Constitution.
Lacson said the Senate would submit to the President the list of projects inserted in the budget at the last minute, and that he considered questionable as these were too vague or lacked details.
To pay for advances
He said he had received information that some of the projects in the last-minute changes were among those vetoed by the President in the 2019 budget.
“My information from the [House] is that they want to regain now what they lost last year. Two thousand-nineteen is an election year, and some of them have gotten advances from contractors, and now the contractors are asking them to pay up,” Lacson said in a phone patch interview with reporters.
The Senate will scrutinize the budget bill even after it has ratified the measure, he said.
Lacson, Senate President Vicente Sotto III and Sen. Sonny Angara, the finance committee chair, have agreed to list down the questionable insertions and send the list to the President and the Department of Budget and Management.
Mr. Duterte could either approve or veto the line items, Lacson said.
“It’s up to the President to discern or analyze if what we are saying is correct or not,” he said.Questionable projects
So far, Lacson said, P16.345 billion worth of projects among the insertions are questionable.He noted that there were flood control projects in different areas worth P60 million each. “The question is, are the configurations of the rivers the same?” Lacson said.
“So it’s clear there is an abuse of discretion here,” he added.
The flood control projects were for Sorsogon City, Irosin, Tabaco City, Guinobatan and Compostela Valley.
There were also inserted projects with scant details, including the concreting and widening of roads in Tumauini, Isabela, for P30 million, the construction of roads in Apalit, Pampanga, for P18 million, and the construction of roads in Candaba, also in Pampanga, for P22 million.
Because of the lack of details, the lawmakers could identify the actual location of the projects after the President has approved the budget, he said.Lacson said he could understand that House members have specific districts and they would fight for projects to be given to these areas, but this would be valid only if they would provide funding properly.
‘Should not be vague’“It should not be vague. It would be valid if the project is well-described, meaning it had been subjected to a study,” he said.
For instance, if it’s reconstruction and rehabilitation of a road in Candaba, the proponent should specify which portion, from what kilometer to what kilometer and what would be the span, Lacson added.
He said he would not raise questions if the projects were this detailed, as this would mean the projects were implementable and would not lead to waste of funds.
In the House of Representatives, Majority Leader Martin Romualdez dismissed Lacson’s claims of last-minute insertions, saying the House was one with the senator in battling pork.
“As you can see, there are no commentaries here on the bicameral committee, because we are already done, the majority, it’s a unanimous adoption,” Romualdez said.
“Of course, we always respect the opinions and the views of each and every congressman and senator. We share the same zeal and we are one with Senator Ping and all those who want to rid the budget of any of those pork issues,” he added.But opposition lawmakers in the House slammed what they called the “sneaky” approval by the chamber of the conference report on the proposed 2020 budget.
“It appears that, based on our observations, [members of the conference committee] tinkered with a number of items in the budget and moved [them] to other items to fund their pork barrel. This gives us all the reasons to scrutinize this even closer and oppose this altogether,” Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos Isagani Zarate said at a news briefing on Thursday.
The House ratified the conference committee report on the 2020 budget on Wednesday without the usual nominal voting by its members.
During the news briefing on Thursday, members of the opposition Makabayan bloc said they were disgusted that the House leadership “hastily” lodged the conference report for approval in the plenary, giving members less than 10 minutes to read the document before putting it up for ratification.
They said many members of the House may have approved the measure without reading its contents.
ACT Teachers Rep. France Castro challenged the House leadership to disprove the allegations of Lacson.
Kabataan Rep. Sarah Elago said she was dismayed that funds in the proposed 2020 budget were being allocated for unspecified projects while many Filipinos were reeling from the impact of natural calamities.
During the plenary on Wednesday, Gabriela Women’s Party Rep. Arlene Brosas objected to ratification of the conference report, saying the proposed budget for 2020 was replete with funds for extrajudicial killings, abduction and harassment of the administration’s critics.
“[But] funds to ensure that poor Filipinos can have something to serve on their dining tables, or funds to aid the dying condition of farmers, are severely wanting in this proposed budget,” Brosas said.
“It cannot be denied that the bulk of the funds in the 2020 budget is stashed on projects that are only meant to fill the pockets of private contractors and their politician cohorts, while the rice bins of our poor citizens are emptied,” she said. —WITH REPORTS FROM MELVIN GASCON AND PATHRICIA ANN V. ROXAS
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