Velasco allies on pension fund cut: Cayetano camp slashed fund by P70B

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    IT was the previous leadership of the House of Representatives that reduced the pension and gratuity funds (PGF) of the police and military by as much as P70 billion under the P4.1 trillion national budget for 2020, lawmakers allied with Speaker Lord Allan Velasco said yesterday.

    Reps. Eric Yap of ACT-CIS party-list, the current chairman of the committee on appropriations, and Davao City Rep. Isidro Ungab, the former head of the panel, said that contrary to the claim of Anakalusugan party-list Rep. Michael Defensor, it was during the leadership of former speaker Alan Peter Cayetano that huge cuts were made in the PGF.

    “The PGF was slashed by the previous House leadership by P70-billion,” Yap said. “I was puzzled then as to why that was, considering that there was no pandemic yet at that time.”

    Yap was reacting to Defensor who earlier raised suspicion that the new P20 billion cut in the PGF under this year’s P4.506 trillion budget was used to pad the district allocations of some lawmakers who are close to Velasco.

    Defensor, an ally of former speaker Alan Peter Cayetano who was ousted and replaced by Velasco last October, said in a privilege speech last Monday that the Executive’s proposed P172.90-billion PGF budget which was supposed to partially fund the payment of the 2018 pension differences of retired military and uniformed personnel (MUP) was reduced to P152.90-billion by the Velasco leadership.

    Deputy Speaker Isidro Ungab, who chaired the appropriations committee during the better part of Cayetano’s term as speaker, told the floor last Monday that the PGF was slashed by P74.029-billion by Cayetano and former Deputy Speaker LRay Villafuerte when the House approved the 2020 budget in 2019.

    “I think this is the proper time to reveal what truly happened, everything that has happened,” he said via the Zoom app. “The cut was finalized at the Office of the Speaker.

    Speaker Cayetano was there, and (then) Deputy Speaker LRay Villafuerte, who finalized the bicam report.”

    Ungab said that at the time, he spoke to his Senate counterpart, Sen. Sonny Angara, so they could expedite the passage of the 2020 budget but he was eventually ousted as head of the appropriations panel as he continuously voiced his disgust over the cuts.

    “Galit na galit ako kasi sundalo din ako e (I was fuming because I’m also a soldier),” said Ungab, a military reservist. “Ngayon lang ako nagsalita (I’m only speaking now) because I was mentioned on the floor. I did my best. Baka pagdating ko diyan next week (Maybe when I arrive there next week) I will tell you in a privilege speech and discuss the details what transpired in that room.”

    Yap said that he has been instructed by Velasco to urgently file a supplemental budget of P50 billion to be able to absorb the fund deficiency brought about by the P70-billion budget cut made by the previous House leadership.

    Yap insisted there were no irregularities in passing the 2021 General Appropriations Act (GAA) since it was deliberated upon by both the House and the Senate, with consultations with the Executive Branch, particularly the Department of Budget and Management (DBM).

    Yap explained that the P20 billion was in fact a “buffer” fund, which the DBM, the House and the Senate all agreed to realign in favor of budget items meant to address the COVID-19 pandemic including the procurement of vaccines and personal protective equipment of medical frontliners.