Aside from P67-B ‘insertions,’ Ping tags ‘P1M per district’ | Inquirer News
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Aside from P67-B ‘insertions,’ Ping tags ‘P1M per district’

By: - Correspondent / @melvingasconINQ
/ 05:42 AM October 23, 2020

Sen. Panfilo Lacson on Thursday said at least P67 billion for the construction of multipurpose buildings was found in the National Expenditure Program (NEP), believed to have been inserted into the 2021 draft national budget through haggling by members of the House of Representatives.

In a television interview, Lacson said the P67 billion was just part of his initial findings on fund insertions into the draft version of the 2021 general appropriations bill (GAB), the final copy of which would be transmitted by the House to the Senate next week.

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Pork free?

“We also saw P1 million uniformly appropriated to several districts, I think 42 districts all over the country. What does that mean? This only confirms that there were really insertions, but inserted not anymore [into the] GAB in Congress but [into] the NEP submitted very late by the [Department of Public Works and Highways],” he said.

Earlier, House leaders insisted that the 2021 national budget was pork-free.

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Lacson said he was withholding judgment on whether the budget bill did not contain pork, as the Senate was still awaiting transmittal of the approved version of the P4.5-trillion GAB, pending the insertion of “errata” by a House “small committee” and the printing of the House-approved version of the bill.

“Until we see that, we cannot really tell or say if there’s pork or not in the [House] version of the budget,” Lacson said.

The Senate’s pork hunter reiterated his earlier remarks that the actions of the small committee on the approved budget bill were unconstitutional, and refuted the position of Senate President Vicente Sotto III that the 2021 GAB should enjoy a presumption of regularity once it reached the Senate.

“To say there’s presumption of regularity, I think it’s misplaced. If that is the output of the small committee and they will include these amendments in the [thumb] drive they will transmit to us on Oct. 28, then we cannot presume regularity, with all due respect to my [Senate President],” Lacson said.

“Because if it [budget bill] is based on an unconstitutional act, I cannot presume regularity,” he added.

Lump-sum appropriations

According to Lacson, the suspicion that some lawmakers had made insertions into the national budget arose after the DPWH budget was found to be containing lump-sum appropriations amounting to P396 billion. Then the DPWH belatedly submitted to the House an “addendum” detailing the breakdown of the lump sums, Lacson said.

He said the department should not have been allowed to submit the addendum as part of the NEP 12 days after the 30-day deadline for submission had lapsed.

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“Again, that’s flawed because it was too late, and they can no longer submit the NEP. What the House should have done is to include [the addendum] in their approved version [during the period of amendments],” Lacson said.

But instead of just including a breakdown of the P396-billion projects that were earlier identified as lump sums, the House “mangled, disfigured and mutilated” the entire P667-billion DPWH budget, Lacson said.

The changes were made by members of the House, and had these converted to fund projects for their districts, he said, quoting information relayed to him by House lawmakers.Lacson earlier decried the insertion by the House, through the small committee, of amendments into the approved GAB, saying it was a violation of the Constitution.

He rejected claims by ACT-CIS Rep. Eric Go Yap, House appropriations committee chair, that errata being entered by the small committee into the bill emanated from the agencies and not the lawmakers.

“That to me is wrong because the role of the executive branch—budget preparation—is already finished. We are already in the authorization phase, legislation and only lawmakers can participate in legislation,” Lacson said.

But Lacson clarified that this early, there cannot be a declaration of the constitutionality of the 2021 GAB, as it has yet to be passed into law.

“Once it reaches the Senate, we will try to examine all these and discuss among ourselves which of the amendments introduced by the [House], because that is our function. Once they submit to us the GAB, it is up to the senators to amend further. Then we meet in [conference] to reconcile the disagreeing provisions,” he said.

Lacson said that among the funding items he would push during the Senate review of the GAB was an increase to the P2.5-billion fund for the purchase of COVID-19 vaccines as this amount would cover only 3.9 million Filipinos.

“If we vaccinate only 3.9 million, what happens to the 96 million others? There will be transmission just the same. That P2.5 billion is like a trickle in the bucket,” he said, adding that he will push for a P10-billion fund for vaccines.

Early submission

Malacañang said it hoped Congress would submit the approved budget bill to the Palace before the second week of December so that it would have enough time to study the measure before President Duterte signs it into law.

“I think [the budget bill submission] has to be earlier than the second week of December to give the executive time to review the budget and see if it will make specific line-item vetoes,” presidential spokesperson Harry Roque told a press briefing on Thursday.

The budget also would have to be published first before it could take effect, Roque said.

He said the Palace would accept Congress’ decision if it would increase the allocation for the purchase of COVID-19 vaccines. But it hopes the lawmakers will consult the executive on the source of funding for the vaccines, he added. —WITH A REPORT FROM LEILA B. SALAVERRIA

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TAGS: budget, Construction, insertion, Lacson
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