July 19, 2018, 12:52 am
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No pork in the budget - yet

THE Senate finance committee will start deliberations on the proposed P3.767-trillion 2018 national budget this week, committee chair Sen. Loren Legarda yesterday said.

Legarda said she expects   the budget bill to psss by October or November, as requested by President Duterte, and the Department of Budget and Management and other government agencies could access it by January of next year.

The senator asked heads of government agencies to request only for budget that they can absorb, noting the huge unused budget in 2016 and for this year.

“Don’t ask for more than you can chew and swallow. Para hindi rin tayo mangako sa tao na hindi natin kayang gawin (So that we would not promise to the people what we could not fulfill),” Legarda said in an interview with dzBB.

She said in 2016, there were P596 billion in unused funds which the DBM has not yet released to agencies.

“This is cash appropriations which means funds allotted to projects of different agencies,” she said, adding that it could not be realigned to fund other programs.

On the supposed pork barrel inserted in the proposed 2018 budget, Legarda said he would check with Sen. Panfilo Lacson if he is referring to lump sum allocations to different agencies.

Earlier, Legarda refuted Lacson’s claim that the government’s proposed national budget includes pork-like insertions.

She said if Lacson was referring to the budgets of every district of every congressman, “indeed, there are budgets for every district, because the whole country is divided into congressional districts. So what do you do with infrastructure projects in provinces and in districts?”

Legarda said pork barrel fund, as defined by the Supreme Court, consists of allocations that “allowed legislators to wield, in varying gradations, non-oversight, post-enactment authority in vital areas of budget executions (thus violating) the principle of separation of powers.”

She said there is no pork yet in the budget since Congress has not yet passed the General Appropriations Act (GAA).

“So anything that’s in the budget now, if you are going to comply with the Supreme Court definition of pork, post-enactment, it can’t be post because we don’t have a GAA yet,” she said.

“I think you should ask the senator who stated that (there is pork) and you show it to me so that I’ll know,” Legarda said.

Lacson earlier said the law mandating free tuition in state universities and colleges should be funded from the pork-like insertions or discretionary funds of lawmakers.

He told Legarda to be honest, stressing that it was she who, in a budget caucus, asked senators to submit P300 million worth of pet projects.

He said he intends to “point out to her (Legarda) what she refuses to see” when the House of Representatives transmits its version of the budget to the Senate.

Meanwhile, Sen. Francis Escudero said Congress could pass a supplemental budget to fund the free tuition fee program for state universities and colleges, or put a provision in the 2018 budget to fund the program.

Escudero also said students who are well off, such as in the University of the Philippines, should pay their tuitions so that others who come from poor families could be supported by the program. – JP Lopez
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