Pimentel hits P10B NTF-Elcac budget: ‘Bicam acting like a third house of Congress’

Koko Pimentel questions restoration of P10 billion budget for NTF-Elcac

FILE PHOTO: Senate Minority Leader Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel III during a plenary session at the Senate on November 29, 2022. (Voltaire F. Domingo/Senate PRIB)

MANILA, Philippines— Senate Minority Leader Aquilino Pimentel III was puzzled why the P10 billion budget of the government’s anti-insurgency task force next year was restored when this was already reduced to P5 billion by both chambers of Congress.

Pimentel noted that the P10 billion budget was Malacanang’s original proposal for the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-Elcac) next year, but this was slashed by P5 billion in the House of Representatives. The budget cut was retained in the Senate.

However, the NTF-Elcac budget was restored to its original amount at the bicameral conference committee.

READ: NTF-Elcac budget restored to P10 billion by bicam

“Ito po ‘yung problema eh. The bicam is acting like the third house of Congress,” Pimentel lamented after Senator Sonny Angara reported on the Senate floor the bicameral conference committee report on the 2023 national budget.

“Sabi ng Executive P10B. Sabi ng House P5B. Sabi ng Senate agree, P5B, and then sabi ng bicam P10B? So why are these things happening, Mr. President, when the bicam is not the third house of Congress?” the opposition leader asked.

(The Executive said, P10B. The House said it’s P5B. The Senate agreed with P5B, and then in the bicam, it’s P10B? So why are these things happening, Mr. President, when the bicam is not the third house of Congress?)

Angara, chairman of the Senate committee on finance, defended the move, saying a court ruling has already settled the issue of having a new provision during the bicameral meeting.

“But I think practically, it’s also being accountable or responsive to some of the stakeholders in the program,” the panel chief said.

“May mga lumapit din po, some of the congressmen wanted to increase it…” he said, adding that some lawmakers might not have been aware when the NTF-Elcac’s budget was reduced by half in the lower chamber.

“So dito lang po sa bicam na-highlight, I think ‘yung natapyasan s’ya ng pondo,” Angara added.

(I think the budget cut was only highlighted here in the bicam.)

Pimentel disagreed with the explanation, saying he would notice and raise it on the floor had the House-approved P5 billion NTF-Elcac budget been increased in the upper chamber.

“Ang nangyayari naiiwasan ‘yung discussion sa floor. I mean, is this consciously being done, iwasan ‘yung discussion sa floor ?” the Minority Leader asked.

Angara denied this, saying there was no such attempt to avoid the issue and proof of this is the fact that it was being raised now on the floor.

“Only because it changed. Had it not changed, we would not be discussing this, Your Honor,” Pimentel argued.