P20B cut in military, police pension fund questioned

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    ANAKALUSUGAN party-list Rep. Michael Defensor yesterday said the House leadership reduced by P20 billion the police and military’s pension and gratuity fund for 2021 as he raised suspicion that the amount was used to pad the district allocations of lawmakers who are close to Speaker Lord Allan Jay Velasco.

    Defensor, a close ally of former speaker Alan Peter Cayetano who was ousted and replaced by Velasco last October, said that under the Executive’s National Expenditure Program (NEP) that was submitted to Congress last year, P172.90-billion was proposed under the Pension and Gratuity Fund (PGF) which the Department of Budget and Management said was supposed to partially fund the payment of the 2018 pension differences of retired military and uniformed personnel (MUP).

    However, the PGF was reduced to P152.90-billion or a difference of P20.0-billion when the General Appropriations Act for 2021 was passed by both House of Congress after holding bicameral meetings.

    ACT-CIS party-list Rep. Eric Yap, who is the House appropriations committee chairman, took responsibility for the reduction, saying it was made to expedite the passage of the 2021 budget late last year after Velasco took the helm from Cayetano.

    Yap told Defensor that Velasco did not know anything about the fund reduction and that he is prepared to lose his post if the Speaker would want him replaced for making a decision without consulting him.

    “Minabuti ko pong hindi konsultahin si Speaker Velasco noong tinanggal ko ‘yung gratuity at pension fund (I took the liberty not to consult the Speaker anymore when I reduced the gratuity and pension fund),” he said. “Kung sa tingin ni Speaker Velasco ay mali ang aking ginawa, tatanggapin ko po kung ako ay tatanggalin niya sa appropriations (If Speaker Velasco thinks that what I did was wrong, I will accept it if he removes me as chair of the appropriations committee).”

    He said he is working on filing a supplemental budget bill to augment the slashed PGF budget, strongly denying that it was used to pad the allocations of some districts.

    Defensor, who withdrew his vote in favor of the passage of the 2021 GAA, blamed Velasco’s leadership for the huge reduction, saying it is unfair that retired unformed personnel will suffer just to appease some lawmakers who are allied with the new House leadership.

    “I will never allow the funds of the police and military, especially retirees, to be used just so we will have funds in our respective districts,” Defensor said in Tagalog in a privilege speech.

    The administration lawmaker quoted the DBM as saying in a press statement that the reduction “largely affected the payment of the 2018 pension differentials.”

    Defensor asked Velasco’s leadership to explain “why did this happen and how the pension at gratuity fund of our police, soldiers, Coast Guard, Bureau of Fire (Protection) and jail guards (were cut).”

    “Ang pangalawang tanong ko, saan napunta ang P20 Bilyon na kinuha? (My second question is where did the P20 billion went?),” Defensor said, noting that under the 2021 GAA, as much as P32 Billion was added to the public works budget of some lawmakers.

    Yap explained that the P20 billion did not go to public works budget but was used to augment the government’s COVID-19 response fund, including the budget for the procurement of vaccines.

    Defensor however said that while he could not blame Yap for making that decision, Velasco should be made to answer because he has “command responsibility” being the leader of the House.

    “It’s not his (Yap) responsibility. The command responsibility of this budget is with Speaker Lord Velasco and no one else. At least with the House of Representatives,” he said.