WHO needs the opposition when they have allies like these?
The issue hounding the alleged “pork” in the P4.1 trillion proposed national budget for 2020 started when some House leaders disclosed the amounts that members of the House of Representatives will receive next year.
Ironically, however, the revelations did not come from opposition lawmakers and left-leaning House members who, traditionally, are the ones who make noise about the pork issue.
The “disclosures” came from Albay Rep. Joey Salceda, a senior vice chair of the House committee on appropriations, and Cavite Rep. Abraham “Bambol” Tolentino, chair of the House committee on accounts.
It was Salceda who revealed that each congressional district will have P100 million in allocations under the 2020 budget.
Salceda, who also chairs the powerful ways and means committee, revealed the information on September 18, 2019 during a press conference in Malacañang.
The revelation prompted Sen. Panfilo Lacson to pounce on the House leadership, using Salceda’s admission as basis for his allegation that the General Appropriations Bill (GAB) remains riddled with pork despite the Supreme Court’s 2013 ruling banning the pork barrel system.
This happened while opposition congressmen like Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman and members of the Makabayan bloc were still quiet on the issue. The Makabayan lawmakers eventually slammed the allocations.
Reliable House sources said Salceda was even “scolded” by Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano when the news broke out because his disclosure painted the House in a bad light.
On that same day, a meeting was held among House leaders and a press statement denying that the allocations are “pork” was later issued.
According to House leaders, the fund cannot be considered as “pork” because it is not lump sum in nature and is itemized in the national budget.
What is prohibited by the SC ruling, it said, is the post-enactment identification of projects to be funded by the annual budget.
The press statement even quoted Salceda as saying that lawmakers can only propose but cannot amend the budget on the floor because of the inline budgeting system that “we strictly adhere to to ensure that every item in the proposed appropriations law is legal and aboveboard.”
He said all projects identified by congressmen, including representatives of party-list groups, which were included by the executive department in the NEP “were deemed necessary based on the complete work plans and feasibility studies that were submitted by district, provincial or regional authorities of the various departments.”
Salceda said then that members of the House including local officials, like mayors and governors, have also submitted recommendations on development projects based on the needs of their respective areas.
While the issue hounding the P100 million allocation was hogging the headlines, another House leader, Tolentino divulged on the floor that the House will need an additional P1.6 billion for fiscal year 2020.
He made the disclosure during the plenary deliberations on the 2020 budget, right before the House approved the GAB on third and final reading.
Some lawmakers were wondering why Tolentino had to mention the budget increase on the floor when it was not an initiative of the House but was already included in the National Expenditure Program (NEP) which was submitted by the executive to Congress.
Smelling blood, Lacson again slammed the House, saying he initially received information that congressmen wanted P1.5 billion in allocations for each of the 22 deputy speakers and P700 million for the rest of its members.
The Speaker, faced with yet another headache and a word war with Lacson, had to take up the cudgels again and explain that the House will only have the additional P1.6 billion budget under the 2020 GAB as opposed to Lacson’s claim that each deputy speaker will receive P1.5 billion.
Cayetano explained that the additional fund will be exclusively spent for the appointment of 22 deputy speakers, for research, new facilities, newly created committees and additional number of personnel and for the improvement of the Congressional Planning and Budget Department.
On Monday, the Speaker challenged Lacson and other critics of the House to identify the supposed “pork” in the House-approved version of the proposed national budget, calling the allegations the work of “rumor-mongers.”
Cayetano made a power point presentation of the P9.5 billion institutional amendments that the House has made in the GAB, which he said was still almost identical to the NEP.
Of these institutional amendments, the biggest chunk of P3 billion went to the Department of Agriculture’s proposed budget for the purchase of palay (unhusked rice).