Senators begin scrutiny of House-okayed budget

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    BY WENDELL VIGILIA and VINCE NONATO

    THE proposed 2020 General Appropriations Bill (GAB) or the P4.1-trillion national budget for next year has been transmitted to the Senate amid allegations from Sen. Panfilo Lacson that it is riddled with congressmen’s “pork.”

    Deputy speaker Boyet Gonzales of Mandaluyong City said senators can now scrutinize the House-approved version of the budget that Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano has repeatedly claimed is “pork-free.”

    “Again and again, we contend that it is a pork-free budget as we strictly confined ourselves to the decision of the Supreme Court which declared the PDAF (Priority Development Assistance Fund) unconstitutional and prohibited the post-enactment identification of projects. Now, the Senate can finally see for themselves,” Gonzales said.

    The GAB was transmitted to the Senate on Tuesday morning.

    Senate committee on finance chairman Sen. Juan Edgardo Angara confirmed the chamber has received the 2020 GAB as he vowed to “work overtime” to have the measure ready for President Duterte’s signature “before the end of the year.”

    “Our finance subcommittees are completing the hearings on the proposed budgets of the last few agencies,” Angara said.

    “During the break, we will be consolidating all of the submissions into a committee report and once we resume sessions, we will be ready to sponsor the bill in plenary,” Angara added.

    The transmittal of the 2020 General Appropriations Act (House Bill No. 4228) came 11 days after the House approved it on third and final reading on September 20, said to be the fastest passage of the budget measure by the lower chamber where all such bills would have to originate under the Constitution.

    In the interim, the House made “institutional amendments” that realigned a total of P9.52 billion, all made after the measure was approved by the plenary.

    Cayetano on Monday made a powerpoint presentation of the P9.5 billion institutional amendments that the House has initiated and said that of the amount, the biggest chunk of P3 billion went to the Department of Agriculture’s proposed budget for the purchase of palay (unhusked rice).

    The other realignments included additional allocations for the improvement of the K-12 program, funding for the improvement of police and military camps, for the establishment of community-based drug rehabilitation centers, for the Philippine General Hospital, for public school operations, and for training for the 2020 Olympics and ASEAN Para Games, among others.

    The realigned funds were sourced from the P5.77 billion initially allocated for the May 2020 barangay and Sangguniang Kabataan elections, which both the Senate and the House have already approved, and another P3.75 billion set aside for right of way compensation.

    Lacson has vowed to scrutinize the House-approved GAB for any “pork” insertions following information that a P100 million allocation has been set aside for each House member for their respective infrastructure projects and financial assistance programs.

    Lacson, in an interview with radio station dzMM yesterday, said he will be happy if there were no pork barrel in the 2020 budget.

    “[If] for the first time, ganyan ang nangyari, wala talagang naka-insert, walang naka-park, walang malaking bilyon-bilyon na napunta sa mga distrito nang walang consultation sa ahensyang mag-implement, masaya tayong lahat (If that happens, if nothing is inserted, if nothing is parked, if there are no billions that goes to districts without consultation with the implementing agencies, we will all be happy,” Lacson said.

    The House and the Senate are aiming to avoid a repeat of the standoff that caused the delay of the passage of the 2019 GAA and forced the government to operate on a reenacted budget for the first quarter of the year.

    The Senate relented just so the 2019 budget bill could be sent to President Duterte’s desk. But, senators asked him to veto P95.3-billion worth of infrastructure projects inserted by congressmen in the bicameral conference committee. Duterte did so.