‘Small group’ amendments unconstitutional: Ping

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    Senator Panfilo Lacson. (Photo handout)

    BY RAYMOND AFRICA and WENDELL VIGILIA

    SEN. Panfilo “Ping” Lacson yesterday lashed out at the House of Representatives as its so-called “small group” continued to tackle amendments to the proposed P4.5-trillion national budget for 2021 and rejected individual revisions proposed by lawmakers.

    Lacson reminded members of the lower house that the budget measure was already approved on third and final reading last Friday, which he said bars congressmen from making any more changes in the 2021 General Appropriations Bill (GAB).

    “Last October 16, the House of Representatives approved on third and final reading the P4.5-trillion proposed national budget for 2021. Yet as of today (October 19), it continues to tackle amendments via the so-called ‘small group’,” Lacson said.

    Lacson said errata or amendments introduced to the GAB after its approval on third and final reading are unconstitutional as clearly stated in Article VI, Sec. 26, Paragraph 2 of the 1987 Constitution.

    “Wala namang sinasabi ang Constitution na pag naghahabol ng ‘errata’ hindi ito applicable: ‘Upon the last reading of a bill, no amendment thereto shall be allowed, and the vote thereon shall be taken immediately thereafter, and the yeas and nays entered in the Journal (It is not stated in the Constitution that that provision in the Constitution is not applicable if they are trying to introduce errata: ‘Upon last reading of a bill, no amendment thereto shall be allowed, and the vote thereon shall be taken immediately thereafter, and the yeas and nays entered in the Journal),” Lacson said.

    Lacson said introducing amendments to a bill after it was already passed on third and final reading can only be made by lawmakers in the bicameral conference committee deliberations when both houses meet to iron out the disagreeing provisions in their versions of the measure.

    “This) will further muddle an already constitutionally infirm and error-filled budget measure. Why? The authorization part of the four-phase budget process is under the exclusive jurisdiction of the Congress, and the executive should deal only with budget preparation and execution. No amount of technicalities and sweet-talk maneuvers can correct a flawed budget that is supposed to address the problems and concerns of more than 100 million Filipinos,” Lacson said.

    “It is time that we correct the mindset of the so-called representatives of the people in this regard,” he added.

    Lacson’s comments were made in reaction to the announcement of House appropriations committee chair ACT-CIS party-list Rep. Eric Yap last Friday that the small group of congressmen will accept errata on the budget bill until October 19 as there might have been errors in putting the amounts for an agency’s proposed budget following the rushed approval of the GAB last week.

    Yap had assured that amendments will come only from the implementing agencies and not from individual House members.

    SMALL GROUP

    The small group tasked to review proposed amendments to the GAB yesterday rejected all individual amendments made by lawmakers to insulate the institution under the new leadership of Speaker Lord Allan Jay Velasco from allegations of “pork barrel” insertions.

    Albay Rep. Joey Salceda told reporters that the panel, which is led by majority leader Martin Romualdez and Yap, decided to accept only a total of P20 billion in “institutional amendments” and departmental errata.

    “The small group consensus was to approve only P20-billion institutional amendments and departmental errata. And no individual amendments,” Salceda said after a meeting of the small committee.

    Salceda noted that as of today, the House-approved version of the budget is still almost identical to the National Expenditure Program (NEP) submitted by Malacañang to the House last August.

    Salceda said the Senate will not be able to blame the House anymore if the budget’s passage will be delayed because congressmen have done their job and met the deadline.

    “We called the bluff of the Senate,” he said. “Kung baga sinasabi agad nila na hindi namin maaayos ang House version. Ang sinasabi ko, ayan na na ang House version tapos na, kunin nyo na (They were saying that we’ll not be able to come up with the House version so I’m saying now that the House version is done, get it already).”

    Salceda said congressmen will just propose individual amendments during the bicameral meetings with senators to bring probability of having this year’s budget re-enacted to “zero.”

    He said the P20 billion includes the following: P5.5 billion for the procurement of COVID-19 vaccines, P2 billion for pandemic assistance, P4 billion to aid displaced workers, P2 billion for the acquisition of C-130 planes, P2 billion for the Department of Health’s (DOH) Health Facilities Enhancement Program to complete the construction of hospitals, P2 billion for the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) for mobility assets for the PNP, P1.7 billion for the Department of Education’s (DepEd) internet needs for online classes; P500 million for energy governance, of which P400 million is for the Philippine National Oil Company for the development of renewable energy and P100 million for the Energy Regulatory Commission to improve and modernize its system; and P300 million for the DOH for mental health programs.

    The inequitable allocation of infrastructure allocation under the budget bill as proposed by the Executive was what sparked the coup against Cayetano after Velasco allies led by Negros Oriental Rep. Arnolfo Teves denounced it in the committee level.

    Velasco said the House will exert “best efforts” to submit the budget to the Senate on October 28 because Senate President Vicente Sotto III had told him that senators might be too pressed for time if the budget will be transmitted to the Senate on November 5, as earlier planned by the previous leadership under ex-speaker Alan Peter Cayetano.

    “Let me assure you that there is no pork in the budget and that the small committee would only do institutional amendments in the departments and agencies asking for more budgets. That is their job,” Velasco told a television interview.

    “Right now we’re just doing a lot of institutional amendments. After that, the Senate will review it also, they will scrutinize it also. Then it comes to bicam. A lot can happen in the bicam and definitely we will push for fair and equitable distribution,” Velasco said.

    Velasco said there “weren’t any promises made” that the more than P11 billion public works budget of Camarines Sur and Taguig City’s P8 billion will no longer be amended.

    Cebu Rep. Rodrigo Abellanosa last week decried that the two districts of Cebu City were given an infrastructure budget of only P500 million, while the district of Camarines Sur Rep. Luis Raymund Villafuerte, who is also an NP stalwart, was allocated P11.8 billion.

    Abellanosa also questioned the P8 billion infrastructure budget of Taguig-Pateros, which is represented by the former speaker and his wife Rep. Lani Cayetano.