Ping: P83B ‘pork’ hidden in ‘vague’ infra projects

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    SEN. Panfilo “Ping” Lacson yesterday said congressmen hid the P83 billion last-minute “pork” insertions in lump sum appropriations for “vague” infrastructure projects all over the country.

    Lacson, a vice chairman of the Senate finance committee, said most of these projects were listed down as new road networks, road rehabilitations or repairs, and flood control projects, the appropriations of which were not discussed or approved during the respective plenary discussions of the Senate and the House of Representatives.

    Lacson insisted all lump sum and ambiguous additional allocations to the annual General Appropriations Budget (GAB) are considered pork, as defined under the 2013 Supreme Court (SC) ruling declaring as unconstitutional all pork and related funds inserted into the GAB after plenary and/or before or after bicameral conference debates.

    “Ang sinabi, basta lump sum at walang malinaw na description ng proyekto considered pork ‘yan. Saan mo i-implement ‘yan? I-a-identify pa lang ng kongresista ang proyekto pagkatapos i-enact ang budget measure? So maliwanag na pork (The Supreme Court has ruled that if it is lump sum and if projects do not have clear descriptions, they are considered as pork. Where will you implement that? If the congressmen will still identify the project after funds were already allocated, that’s clear pork funds),” Lacson said in an interview with dzBB.

    Samples of these pork allocations, according to the senator, include the eight flood control projects equally given P60 million each, and the road repair/rehab projects in parts of the country without details.

    Lacson last week bared what he said were P83 billion worth of 1,253 projects contained in a “Source File” and P16.345 billion worth of 742 projects in a “List File” saved in a USB drive submitted Tuesday night (Dec. 10) by members of the House contingent to the bicameral conference committee that reconciled the Senate and House versions of the proposed P4.1-trillion national budget for 2020.

    The flash drive was submitted hours before the bicameral panel was set to approve and sign the reconciled budget report on Wednesday (Dec. 11) morning.

    Lacson had claimed the eleventh-hour insertions could be part of the billions of pesos worth of projects deleted during the deliberations for the proposed 2019 budget for the Department of Public Works and Highways.

    For one, the senator questioned the uniform allocations of P60 million each given for flood control projects in Bacon district in Sorsogon, in barangay Gulang-gulang in Irosin, Sorsogon; an upstream also in barangay Gulang-gulang, Irosin; in barangay Osiao, Bacon district in Sorsogon; another upstream in barangay Gulan-gulang in Irosin; in barangay San Antonio, Tabaco City, Albay; a left side upstream, again, in barangay Gulang-gulang, Irosin; phase 2 of Mawab River in Compostela Valley; and in barangay Masarawang, Guinobatan, Albay.

    “I-highlight ko ang talagang highly questionable para madali. Ang kabuuan ng flood control projects nasa P3.179B. Ang nakakamangha rito, 8 sa flood control projects na ‘yan bakit pare-pareho tig-P60M magkakaibang lugar? Pare-pareho ba ang mga ilog doon at gagawin?

    (I’d just like to highlight this as the most highly questionable. The entire flood control project cost P3.179B. What is surprising the uniform P60M allocation for 8 flood control projects. Are the rivers there the same? Will they be doing similar projects in these areas?)” Lacson asked.

    The inserted projects also include the repair/rehab of road network for the second district of Marikina City for P15 million, repair/rehab of road network in barangay Tumana also in the amount of P15 million, asphalt overlay of various roads in barangay North Fairview for P25 million, concreting/road widening of roads in Alaminos City, Pangasinan for P15 million, concreting/widening of a road in Tumauni, Isabela for P30 million, road construction in Apalit, Pampanga worth P18 million, construction of a road in Candaba, Pampanga for P22 million, and road rehabilitation in Balayan, Batangas for P10 million.

    The USB list also included a road rehabilitation project in Lemery, Batangas for P10 million, road rehab in Nasugbu, Batangas for P10 million, and asphalt overlay in a road in Catbalogan City, Samar for P50 million.

    “Meron pang repair, reconstruction o rehabilitation, nakalagay doon isang buong bayan.

    Halimbawa Nasugbu Batangas. May P25M nakalagay roon repair ng kalsada sa Nasugbu.

    Saan sa Nasugbu? Ia-identify pa lang ng kongresista saan sa Nasugbu ang ipapa-repair na kalsada. E di post-enactment din ang identification (There are repair, reconstruction or rehabilitation projects in one town, for example in Nasugbu, Batangas. There is a P25M allocation for road repair. Where in Nasugbu? The congressman has yet to identify the exact area. But that is post-enactment identification),” he added.

    Lacson said: “Ito ang mga ipo-point out kong maliwanag na pork kasi may post-identification ng project, ayon na rin sa ruling ng SC. Pero remember hindi lang ‘yan ang definition ng pork barrel sa ruling ng SC. Ang sinabi basta lump sum at walang malinaw na description ng proyekto, considered pork ‘yan. Saan mo implement yan? Ia-identify pa lang ng kongresista ang proyekto pagkatapos i-enact ang budget measure so maliwanag na pork (These are the things that I would like to point out because these are clearly pork since it will involve post-identification of the project. The SC ruling specifically tackled this in its ruling on pork barrel. It likewise said anything that is lump sum in character and those which are vague and have no project description can be considered pork).”

    Lacson made his statement in reaction to Senate economic affairs committee chair Sen. Imee Marcos who belied there was pork in the proposed 2020 national budget.

    Marcos said the supposed last-minute insertions made by the House cannot be considered “pork” funds since these projects were allegedly already discussed when the budget measure was deliberated on the floor.

    In a separate interview over dzBB, Marcos said that being a former congresswoman, she can say that these late amendments to the GAB were due to the many request for infrastructure projects made by local government units.

    She said a big number of the projects which were allocated with budget were already tackled during floor deliberations but were not detailed due to lack of time.

    Lacson corrected the statement of Marcos that the projects introduced in the GAB were already discussed during floor deliberations.

    “I would like to correct the impression of Sen. Imee that the projects which were contained in the USB drive were not yet discussed during deliberations. How can we have tackled those projects when it was only last Tuesday night that the USB drive was sent to us, then the budget bill was approved by the bicam Wednesday morning,” Lacson said.

    Lacson said having proposed projects with no clear details is a violation of the Constitution.

    “Dapat may detalye, pati halaga. ‘Yan ang sabi ng SC ruling. Doon na tayo pupunta sa usaping pork barrel. Sinabi ng SC ruling bawal ang post-enactment identification of projects (The SC ruling said that each project should have detailed description and should have detailed amounts otherwise that will be considered pork barrel funds. The SC ruling said that post-enactment identification of projects is prohibited),” he added.

    He said another SC definition of pork funds states that “all informal practices of similar import and effect that the SC deemed to be tantamount or subject to grave abuse of discretion” is also pork.

    Senate President Vicente Sotto III on Saturday said he will sign the proposed 2020 GAB anytime this week even as Lacson has disclosed a number of insertions so the country will not run on a re-enacted budget next year.

    Both leaders of the House and Senate must sign the ratified copy of the budget bill before it is sent to the House for printing and forwarded to the President for his final approval.

    “Ang pinakamaganda mag-usap kami…And then we can make suggestions. Pero hindi ko siguro pwedeng i-insist na tulad last year (2018) na hindi ko muna pipirmahan… So far wala naman binibigay reports sa akin na may ginalaw after ratification

    (It best to discuss it first and then we can make suggestions. But I could not insist, like what I did last year, that I won’t sign it. So far I have not received reports that they tinkered with it after ratification),” Sotto said.

    Sotto said he will meet with Angara, Lacson, and Budget Secretary Wendel Avisado today (Dec. 16) to furnish the latter with the detailed list of the inserted items in the proposed national budget for 2020.