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Lacson laments ‘ugly squabble’ of House lawmakers over ‘pork’

/ 07:26 PM September 21, 2020

MANILA, Philippines — Senator Panfilo Lacson on Monday lamented the “ugly squabble” among House lawmakers over allocations for infrastructure projects under the proposed P4.5 trillion national budget for 2021.

In a statement, Lacson said the Filipino public’s “respect towards the legislature as an institution as well as its individual members somehow dissipates” when “statesmanship goes out the window.”

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“This early, we are already seeing the ugly effects of ‘pork.’ More than the possible delay in the passage of the 2021 national budget, any ugly squabble in plenary over the distribution of earmarks a.k.a. ‘pork’ is exactly that – ugly,” the senator said.

“Any way we look at it, it is sad and lamentable, to say the least,” he added.

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Bickering among some members of the House of Representatives started when Negros Oriental Rep. Arnolfo Teves, Jr. questioned the Department of Public Works and Highways’ (DPWH) distribution of infrastructure funds among congressional districts, notably the shares for the districts of Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano, who represents Taguig-Pateros, and Deputy Speaker Luis Raymund Villafuerte, who represents Camarines Sur’s 2nd district.

Citing DPWH’s 2021 proposed budget, Teves said Villafuerte’s district was allotted a hefty P11.8 billion while  Cayetano’s district was earmarked P8 billion for infrastructure projects.

Villafuerte, however, dismissed Teves’ claims as mere “hearsay” and alleged that the fuss was just about the speakership. According to Villafuerte, the Negros Oriental congressman’s questioning of the DPHW allocations was ultimately about a plan supposedly hatched by Marinduque Rep. Lord Allan Jay Velasco’s camp to disturb the current leadership’s track to pass the 2021 national budget ahead of time.

To recall, a gentlemen’s agreement was sealed between President Rodrigo Duterte, Cayetano, and Velasco on speakership term-sharing wherein Cayetano was to serve as Speaker for 15 months, until October this year, while Velasco will take the helm for the remaining 21 months of the 18 Congress.

Consequently, a word war allegedly ensued between Villafuerte and Teves in a Viber group chat of House lawmakers.

READ: Word war to slugfest? Teves dares Vilalfuerte to a fistfight

Further clarification

Lacson, meanwhile, said he will seek further clarification on the billions of “re-appropriations” and lump sum appropriations he earlier flagged under the proposed 2021 national budget.

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“The total amount representing P135 billion covering 5,913 re-appropriated items and P396 billion in lump-sum appropriations lodged in the central office of the DPWH may need further clarification,” he said.

READ: Lacson sees P135.5B more of rehashed items in 2021 budget; it can reach P500B

Aside from the P396 billion, Lacson initially discovered “re-appropriations” or funding for projects that have already been funded under the 2020 General Appropriations Act amounting to P73.5 billion, which later ballooned to P135.8 billion upon further scrutiny of the proposed budget.

“It is basic that once an infra project has started its implementation, it is already obligated. Hence, there can be no partial cash allocation, unless that project is discontinued, canceled, or terminated,” the senator said.

“Then, the unused portion of the appropriation becomes savings that may be realigned. Or, if the project is covered by Multi-Year Contractual Authority (MYCA), formerly known as MYOA or Multi-Year Obligational Authority which is clearly spelled out and provided in the 2020 GAA, the same item cannot reappear in the succeeding budget year,” he explained.

“We were not born yesterday as far as budgeting is concerned,” Lacson added.

 Not due to ‘pork’

House appropriations committee chair Rep. Eric Yap earlier said that the recent disagreements among congressmen over the proposed 2021 national budget are not because of the unequal distribution of “pork” funds.

Yap made the statement after Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos Zarate said the recent quarrel between his colleagues at the lower chamber over alleged favored funding for certain legislative districts are clearly matters of pork.

“Yung mga pinag-aawayan is ‘yung para sa parochial concerns,” Yap said.

(First of all, the disagreements are over parochial concerns.)

“For example, ako sa Benguet, ako iyong congressman ngayon doon. Karapatan ko na makiusap sa executive, baka puwede niya kaming lagyan ng dagdag na kalsada, dagdag na tulay, iyong mga kailangan namin sa probinsya namin,” he added.

(For example, I’m in Benguet, I am the congressman there. I have the right to ask the executive if they can give us funds for roads, bridges, things that we need in our province.)

But these funds are not “pork” allocations, Yap asserted, adding that distribution of public funds between congressional districts was never the same.

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TAGS: DPWH budget, House of Representatives, Nation, national budget for 2021, news, Senator Panfilo Lacson
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