THERE is no “pork” inserted in the version of the proposed 2020 General Appropriations Bill (GAB) approved by the House of Representatives but Sen. Panfilo Lacson said there is an estimated P20 billion “unclear” allocations “parked” in various government agencies.
Lacson said a review of the House’s 2020 GAB showed the more or less P20 billion allocations were parked in agencies such as the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) and the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH).
“May mga napansin kami na may mga hindi malinaw kung saan dadalhin ang pondo. Nagkakahalaga ito more or less estimate namin, nasa mga P20 billion. Hindi malinaw.
Naka-park ito kung saan-saan. May sa DILG, may as usual sa DPWH. May ganoon at kung iipunin natin lahat ‘yan na sa tingin namin ay hindi ma-implement nang maayos o hindi ma-implement at all, dahil hindi maliwanag o kaya naka-lump sum, nasa mga P20B (We noticed more or less P20 billion in lump sum allocations the use of which were not clearly defined. They are parked in various agencies. There are some at DILG, and as usual at DPWH. We think these projects will not be implemented properly or will not be implemented at all because it was not really clear where they will be used. They were in lump sum),” Lacson said in an interview with dzBB yesterday.
“Dahil naka-lump sum siya, ‘di naman siya matatawag na pork although napansin namin saan kaya ito gagamitin at nung tinanong naming ang mga ahensya sa committee hearing, ‘di rin nila masagot (Because these are lump sum allocations, you cannot call these pork. When we asked where these funds will be used during the committee hearings, even the agencies involved did not know),” he added.
He also said: “May mga nakita rin kami na siguro sa mahigit P10 billion sa DPWH lang na hindi malinaw. Halimbawa, P500M repair ng Kennon Road. Saan ‘yan? Hindi natin alam anong gagawin doon. Kailangan may km so and so to km so and so, itemized. Pero kung napakalaking bulto, kalahating bilyong piso at sasabihin mo napaka-general ng description, o kaya QC to EDSA, ‘di mo alam saan ‘yan, so hindi maimplementa ‘yan (We saw P10 billion for DPWH which was ambiguous. For exampale, P500M for the repair of Kennon Road. It was not stated what kind of repair they will do. It should have contained km so and so to km so and so, it should have been itemized. If it is in lump sum, half a billion pesos and you do not know where exactly it will be spent, I doubt that that can be implemented).”
While making the revelation, Lacson was quick to clarify that “this is not pork.”
“Hindi naman nagalaw (ang National Expenditure Program). Under definition of pork kasi, kung NEP ‘yan, ang implication niyan o assumption, na-vet properly ‘yan ng mga ahensya…
So, kung nakapaloob sa NEP ‘yan hindi natin pwede sabihing pork dahil dumaan sa pagve-vet although may mga napansin nga kami kung saan gagamitin ito? (They did not touch or realign the NEP anyway. Under the definition of pork, if these are in the NEP, the assumption is that these underwent vetting by the finance officials… If the funds are included in the NEP, we cannot call them pork. We are just puzzled where these funds will be used),” Lacson said.
Lacson said that so far, he has not seen anything irregular in the GAB as he lauded the current House leadership as “the most behaved” he has seen in relation to the approval of the national budget.
“In fairness to the present House leadership, ito na ‘yung pinaka-most behaved na counterpart namin (In fairness to the House leadership, this is already the most behaved I have seen),” he said, adding that the only budgetary changes he has seen so far was the P9.5 billion in institutional amendments.
Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano has made public the details on where the P9.5 billion amendment will be used.
But Lacson said he was not sure whether it will be the same in the bicameral conference committee deliberations.
“Ang hindi natin alam ano ‘yung nasa armada nila na nakatago para sa bicameral, ‘yun ang madugo. As far as ‘yung na-transmit sa amin, ‘yun lang na P9.5 billion so sana ‘yun na nga at wala ng idagdag (We do not know what they are planning to do during the bicameral conference committee deliberations. As far as the version that was transmitted, the only change was the P9.5 billion amendment, and I am hoping that that will be the only change),” he said.
He said he and his colleagues will be vigilant for any insertion or changes during the bicameral committee.
“Ang kailangang bantayan ‘yung sa bicameral. Di naman mali na may habulin sa bicameral kasi dun ire-reconcile ang version ng House at Senate pero minsan ang nangyayari sa bicameral ay may nagpapasok at ‘yun ang nakakakaba. Bakit pa kailangang mag-submit ang mga individual congressman ng individual projects eh dumaan na sa plenary ‘yan? (We will be closely watching the bicameral. There is nothing wrong if you change something during the bicameral deliberations because that is when the different versions of the House and the Senate are reconciled. What is worrisome is when they insert something. Why do they need to do that during the bicam when they could have proposed their individual projects during the House plenary?),” he added.
In September, the Senate and the House of Representatives traded barbs after Lacson claimed that the latter had planned to grant P700 million to as much as P1.5 billion to each of its members under the 2020 national budget.
But Cayetano insisted that their approved budget bill has no pork barrel allocation contrary to Lacson’s claim and that only P9.5 billion institutional amendments were divided among various government agencies.
EXTEND 2019 MOOE
The House of Representatives will resume session today to work on the passage of the measure extending until December 31, 2020 the validity of the 2019 budget for maintenance and other operating expenses (MOOE) and capital outlay (CO) and another bill postponing the May 2020 barangay and Sangguniang Kabataan elections.
House majority leader Martin Romualdez said the House of Representatives will hit the ground running to expedite the approval on third and final reading of the two priority measures in the plenary.
“We aim to hit the ground running on the first day of work. Time to roll up our sleeves once again and work double time on vital legislative measures,” said Romualdez.
The House leadership will prioritize the passage of a consolidated joint resolution so that the government can still use the unused funds for 2019 until next year.
Romualdez cited the delays in the enactment of the 2019 GAB early this year and the election ban on the implementation of infrastructure projects and social services as reasons for the measure’s passage.
The House will also prioritize the approval of the measure seeking to postponing barangay and Sangguniang Kabataan elections from May 2020 to the second Monday of May 2023 to give the Commission on Elections (Comelec) enough time to prepare for the polls which will be held a year after the 2022 national elections.
Romualdez said the House also aims to discuss and fast-track the approval of a pending joint resolution authorizing the use of the rice subsidy for the purchase of palay (unhusked rice) from farmers, as provided for in this year’s P3.757-trillion national budget.
He noted that the House has already passed 18 measures on third reading since the start of the 18th Congress, including the 2020 national budget, key tax bills, and amendments to the Foreign Investment Act of 1991.
The tax legislation was among the priority measures identified by President Duterte in his State of the Nation Address (SONA) to open the Congressional session.
In his fourth SONA, Mr. Duterte called for the passage of other measures including those authorizing the postponement of the barangay and Sangguniang Kabataan elections; the Magna Carta for Barangays; the National Land Use bill; the creation of departments for Overseas Filipino Workers, disaster resilience, and water resources; the fire protection modernization program; the new Salary Standardization Law; the new version of the measure outlining the disposal of the coconut levy funds; and the mandatory implementation of Reserve Officers’ Training Corps program in senior high school.
According to Romualdez, other economic bills that needed swift action from the House include measures dealing with the Real Property Valuation and Assessment system, amendments to the Public Service Act amendment, a measure raising the Motor Vehicle Road User’s Tax, as well as the proposals to create the new government departments.
Romualdez said the House aims to pass before the end of the year the bill creating the Department of Water Resources, the Department of Filipino Overseas, and the Department of Disaster Resilience. – With Wendell Vigilia