SEN. Panfilo Lacson deliberately skipped the last meeting of the bicameral panel reconciling the proposed P4.1-trillion national budget to protest what he claimed were last-minute “pork” insertions made by congressmen before the 2020 General Appropriations Bill (GAB) was signed and approved on Wednesday morning.
Lacson said he learned of the insertions from a report made by a number of congressmen which was sent through the Senate’s Legislative Budget Research and Monitoring Office (LBRMO) on Tuesday night.
He said the report was contained in a USB drive which contained two files – a “source” file and a “list” file.
A scrutiny of the files “would indicate that the source file is the list of 1,253 budget items worth P83.219 billion” which, Lacson said, was apparently used as the congressmen’s “source” of their “list” of 742 projects worth P16.345 billion “that were inserted in the bicam report that was signed by both panels this morning (Wednesday).”
“Since there is no preliminary explanation from the House regarding the two files, we cannot ascertain if indeed only P16.345 billion or the bigger amount of P83.219 billion was inserted at the last minute prior to the bicam signing,” he said in a statement.
In protest of the House’s eleventh-hour insertions, Lacson said intentionally missed the bicameral panel’s signing rites.
“Bad habits are indeed hard to break… What is clear, though, is that there are still lump sums and vaguely described projects that are now part of the bicam report,” Lacson said.
“Pork is here to stay. I hope the President will again exercise his political will in vetoing line items that will obviously waste people’s tax money. It is revolting to note that legislators keep on dipping their dirty fingers on our national budget in spite of pending cases involving the same issue,” he added.
Lacson said an initial check of the flash disk files showed at least seven provinces got huge but unclear allocations: Albay (P670 million), Cavite (P580 million), Sorsogon P570 million), Batangas (P502 million, Bulacan (P440 million), Pangasinan (P420 million), and Cebu (P410 million).
A list of 117 flood control projects worth P3.179 billion dominated the insertions, with eight projects uniformly budgeted at P60 million each.
Lacson said he will disclose “more corruption-driven insertions” made by the House once senators complete their scrutiny of the files and after they inform the Department of Budget and Management and President Duterte.
Sen. Juan Edgardo Angara, chairman of the Senate finance committee and co-chair of the bicameral panel, confirmed that the USB Lacson got hold of contained the list of House projects.
Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano took exception to Lacson’s allegations.
“We passed a budget with no pork, no parked funds, and no delays with full transparency,” Cayetano insisted.
While there is no perfect budget, Cayetano said both the Senate and the House were able to identify areas “where funds have been underutilized for various reasons.”
“Thus, both houses made adjustments so it can now be fully utilized for programs such as the Build, Build, Build and social welfare programs in furthering the goal improving the quality of life of Filipinos,” he said.
The Senate and the House yesterday ratified the 2020 General Appropriations Bill (GAB).
“House Bill 4428 bicameral conference committee report is hereby adopted,” said Senate President Vicente Sotto III after Senate majority leader Juan Miguel Zubiri moved that the Senate adopt the budget bill which was earlier signed and approved by the bicam panel at the Manila Polo Club in Makati City.
At the House, Cayetano said: “We would like to commend and congratulate the bicameral conference committee for a thorough review and timely approval of the 2020 General Appropriations Bill.”
The ratified GAB will now be sent to Malacañang for the signature of President Duterte, hopefully before Christmas.
The early approval of the budget, the Speaker said, gives the President ample time to review the bill’s provisions and ensure that it is aligned with the priority programs of the administration.
“We now leave it up to the departments, agencies, and the rest of the Executive branch to fully implement the projects and programs with no corruption and with full transparency,” he said.
The bicam was suppose to approve the budget bill last Monday but senators asked to re-schedule it twice to give them more time to study the money measure.
Present during the signing of the reconciled GAB were 12 of the 14 senators: Angara, Senators Sherwin Gatchalian, Nancy Binay, Imee Marcos, Francis Pangilinan, Richard Gordon, Christopher Go, Cynthia Villar, Ralph Recto, Grace Poe , Joel Villanueva, Juan Miguel Zubiri and Franklin Drilon.
Lacson and Sen. Pia Cayetano did not make it to the signing.
Angara said almost all senators have introduced amendments to the budget bill which were later reconciled with the House version of the budget. – With Wendell Vigilia