MALACAÑANG yesterday said Sen. Panfilo Lacson should “specify” where the alleged P20 billion “unclear” allocations had been “parked” so President Duterte can remove it, if need be.
Chief Presidential Legal Counsel Salvador Panelo, concurrent presidential spokesman, said: “Tell Sen. Lacson to point out what specific item in the GAA (General Appropriations Act) the 20B (P20 billion) has been ‘parked’ and the President will remove it.”
House Deputy Speaker Luis Raymund Villafuerte echoed Panelo and said Lacson should be more specific in his claim because the House has already scrutinized the budget thoroughly.
“It would help if he can emphasize which funds exactly are questionable,” Villafuerte told reporters in a chance interview.
On Sunday, Lacson said a review of the proposed P4.1 trillion national budget for 2020 showed that there are several “unclear” lump sum or allocations that had been placed in agencies like the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) and the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH).
Initially, Lacson noticed at least P4 billion parked in the DPWH budget. The amount includes P507 million and another P70 million for rehabilitation of the Kennon Road in Baguio City but did not provide specifics of the project.
Lacson said a similar lump sum allocation was set aside for an infrastructure project in Cagayan Valley.
In response to Panelo, Lacson tweeted: “I’m sure the president will remove it as he did with the P95B inserted by the House post bicam ratification in the 2019 budget.”
“I will help out by removing it first when I introduce my amendments. I hope my Senate colleagues will support it,” Lacson added.
Villafuerte said the senator should explain which P20 billion he was referring to because the House only realigned P9.5 billion worth of projects before approving the General Appropriations Bill (GAB), which he said is almost identical with the National Expenditure Program (NEP) that the Palace submitted.
“What we realigned was the P9.5 billion institutional amendments, we did not touch or amend the NEP,” he said.
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).
Villafuerte said the allegations that some departments did not know anything about some of the programs in their budget does not necessarily mean that “something shady is going on.”
He said the resource person who made the claim should be the one pressed by the senators for answers or be reprimanded for claiming ignorance.
“I’m sure it’s (the answer is in) the budget,” said the House leader, a deputy speaker for finance.
Senate President Vicente Sotto III said the proposed P4.1-trillion 2020 national budget may be passed next week if the Senate adopts the version approved by the House of Representatives.
The move was earlier proposed by Lacson, who had said that since he did not see any pork in the GAB submitted by the House, then the Senate can just adopt the version so they can do away with the bicameral conference committee phase, and thus preclude any possible opportunity for pork insertions.
Sotto agreed that once the Senate adopts the House version, there is no need for both chambers to convene in a bicameral conference committee which would prevent lawmakers from making individual amendments or insertions.
“Kapag sinunod ‘yung proposal ni Sen. Lacson, next week pasado na ‘yung budget. Ang proposal niya, i-adopt ‘yung House version, eh ‘di walang bicam (If we accede to Sen. Lacson’s proposal, next week the 2020 budget will be passed. Because if we do so, there will no more bicam),” Sotto told dzMM.
But the idea of not convening the bicameral panel does not sit well with Senate majority leader Juan Miguel Zubiri.
“Malabo mangyari kasi marami sa ating mga kasamahan ang meron ding institutional amendments (That is a remote possibility [adopt the House version and convene the bicam] because some of our colleagues also have institutional amendments),” Zubiri said.
Asked to comment on Zubiri’s position, Lacson said the possibility of just adopting the House budget version has now become remote.
“Ngayon baka sa bicam nila ipasok ang individual amendments, iyon ang duda ko (They might insert the individual amendments during the bicam, that’s what I think they will do),” he said.
“But if we adopt the House version, goodbye to their amendments,” he added.
Lacson said senators will have a caucus to iron out their different positions over what Senate action will be adopted related to the proposed 2020 national budget.
Personally, Zubiri said he wants additional funding for the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process, National Commission for Muslim Filipinos, and the Indigenous Peoples, among others.
Zubiri said plenary sponsorship of the proposed budget is scheduled on November 11, while plenary debates are set on November 11 to 15 and November 18 to 22.
On November 22, the budget is expected to be approved on second and third reading, and the bicameral panel will hold its discussions from November 25 to 30.
Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano thanked Lacson for saying that he saw no “pork” in the House- approved version of the budget.
“And I thank Sen. Ping for what he has stated in his Sunday (interview) that only P9.5 billion institutional amendments were made (by the House) for farmers, education, military and police, right? There’s no pork per district,” he told ANC.
Cayetano said the 18th Congress is really studying the proposed budget before approving it for the President’s signature.
“For example, the budget for the construction of classroom went to the Senior High School Voucher Program (for 2019-2020) so, we’re going to really sit down with the DepEd. Is this a policy direction?” he said.
Majority leader Martin Romualdez said Lacson has finally acknowledged the hard work of the House leadership to ensure a pork-free national budget.
“His proposal for the Senate to adopt the national budget that we approved is a step in the right direction. This bolsters our position that what we approved and transmitted to the Senate is a constitutionally compliant General Appropriations Bill,” Romualdez said.
Cavite Rep. Elpidio Barzaga Jr., a stalwart of the National Unity Party (NUP), said it was the first time that Lacson recognized that the national budget transmitted by the House of Representatives to the Senate “is pork-free, bereft of any illegal parking of funds and insertions.”
“I commend and thank my provincemate, Sen. Ping who has been consistent on his advocacy against pork-barrel funds, for his very fair and objective assessment of the national budget that the House of Representatives swiftly approved following thorough scrutiny and deliberations,” Barzaga said.
Barzaga said Lacson’s statement will likely improve the working ties between the House of Representatives and the Senate. – With Raymond Africa and Wendell Vigilia