Palace vows ‘no pork’ after Lacson findings in DPWH budget
MANILA, Philippines — Malacañang on Thursday gave assurance that the proposed P4.5-trillion national budget for 2021 was compliant with the country’s laws and the Supreme Court’s ruling against pork, but Sen. Panfilo Lacson, who had discovered lump sums in the spending plan, pointed out that the budget secretary’s commitment to ask the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) to submit a revised list of programs, activities and projects belied the Palace’s stance.
Lacson on Wednesday sought to remove P469 billion from the proposed P667.3-billion budget of the DPWH that he said consisted of unconstitutional lump-sum appropriations.
Presidential spokesperson Harry Roque responded for Malacañang on Thursday, saying President Duterte’s spending plan contained no pork.
“We maintain that when we submitted the budget, we followed the court decision that says there should be no pork barrel and all the government’s expenditures should have a line item budget,” Roque told a news briefing.
He was referring to a 2013 ruling of the Supreme Court that declared the Priority Development Assistance Fund, a pork barrel that channeled funds to lawmakers’ projects, unconstitutional.
In that ruling, the court said the intervention of lawmakers in the postenactment stage of the budget, such as identification of projects, release of funds, and realignment of funds, is beyond the lawmakers’ oversight function.
Roque denied that the proposed 2021 budget contained lump-sum appropriations. “All items there have a specified project for it,” he said.
He, however, said it was up to Congress to decide whether the questioned appropriations in the DPWH budget should be removed.
Commenting on Roque’s defense, Lacson said the commitment of Budget Secretary Wendel Avisado to ask the DPWH to submit a revised list of programs, activities and projects showed Roque’s statement stood on hollow ground.
The senator, however, said a spokesperson would always defend his principal “right or wrong.”
“That’s his job,” Lacson said.
During the budget hearing on Wednesday, Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon and Sen. Risa Hontiveros questioned the government’s priorities, noting that the budget for the anti-insurgency campaign was bigger than the allotment for departments tasked with leading the recovery from the debilitating impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the economy.
Drilon warned that the public funds set aside for the anti-insurgency program under the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict might be used for partisan politics in the run-up to the 2022 national elections, as P16.4 billion of the budget would be allocated for the Barangay Development Program.
Lawmakers in the House of Representatives on Thursday demanded that the agencies that were allocated funds from the anti-insurgency program provide details of their projects to ease suspicions that the funds were actually pork for military generals.
During the budget briefing by the Department of the Interior and Local Government, ACT-CIS Rep. Eric Go Yap, the appropriations committee chair, under interpellation by Kabataan Rep. Sarah Jane Elago, gave assurance that the agency would list down the projects.
Elago’s questioning centered on the proposed allotment of P17.8 billion for the anti-insurgency task force that she said was recorded in the DILG’s P244.3-billion budget as a “lump-sum” item.
“The DILG has the burden to prove [to the House] that this P16.4 billion is not a President’s or a general’s pork barrel because as it stands now, it [is] a lump-sum [appropriation],” Elago said.
She suggested that the appropriation be realigned to augment the government’s relief programs.
The proposed 2021 national budget, however, contains nothing for relief.
Roque explained that funds were not allotted in the budget proposal for relief because the economy was gradually reopening with the easing of lockdowns.
With more industries resuming operations, people have livelihoods again, he said.
“In other words, giving only financial assistance is over because we do not plan to have big, strict lockdowns,” Roque said.
“Our strategy is [local] lockdowns,” he added. —with a report from Melvin Gascon
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.