Zubiri issued the statement a day after he and other senators met with Budget Secretary Benjamin Diokno, who discussed with them the repercussions of a reenacted budget in 2019.
Geremy Pintolo
12-hour workday for senators
Cecille Suerte Felipe (The Philippine Star) - November 30, 2018 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — The Senate is committed to work 12 hours a day starting next week to be able to pass the P3.737-trillion 2019 national budget in December to prevent a reenacted budget next year that could delay government projects, Senate Majority Leader Juan Miguel Zubiri said yesterday.

Zubiri issued the statement a day after he and other senators met with Budget Secretary Benjamin Diokno, who discussed with them the repercussions of a reenacted budget in 2019.

“Best effort talaga but  kakayanin. Our commitment is to work 12 hours a day starting Tuesday to Friday and also on Monday until we finish (the budget discussion) on second reading in plenary,” said Zubiri during the weekly Kapihan sa Senado forum.

The House of Representatives passed the proposed P3.757-trillion General Appropriations Bill (GAB) for 2019 on final reading last Nov. 20.

Some senators said the House was supposed to transmit the GAB last Oct. 11 before they went on Halloween break and the delay could prompt the government to operate on a reenacted budget during the first two months of 2019.

Diokno, however, claimed that implementing a reenacted budget could delay the implementation of projects under the administration’s Build, Build, Build program in 2019, considering that the election ban would be imposed three months before the May 2019 elections.

Zubiri assured the public that the quality of the contents of the 2019 General Appropriations Act would not be sacrificed.

“And you can call it a turnaround. We will accept the challenge, we will work 12 hours, but we will not sacrifice the quality of our hearings,” said Zubiri.

Zubiri said holding pre-bicameral conference meetings to discuss issues about the 2019 national budget is allowed under the procedure. 

“We fully respect our colleagues who want to scrutinize the budget. Our stand is to go 12 hours daily. We are not preventing them from asking questions. For us as leaders, we are prepared to work 12-hour days,” he noted.

Zubiri said the minority bloc led by Sen. Franklin Drilon has also agreed to hold 12-hour budget deliberations.

He said all committee hearings on other issues would be suspended.

Zuburi said the changes in the Senate schedule were made after the senators met with Diokno. 

“The changes were done when Sec. Diokno appealed to us and explained to us what are the repercussions of a reenacted budget. One is the delay on the suspension, salary increases and several others,” he said.

He said Diokno pointed out to them that the reenacted budget will affect the Build, Build, Build projects plus the implementation of election ban for May 2019 midterm elections.

Zubiri said Diokno has agreed to sit down to help the senators scrutinize the GAB.

Sen. Panfilo Lacson vowed to closely scrutinize the 2019 budget after he discovered the purported “pork barrel” funds for congressmen tucked in the annual money measure.

“I have an initial copy that indicates there really is pork. Even if they say there is no pork, it’ clear there is pork. The initial information subject to validation is that all congressmen were allotted P60 million,” said Lacson in English and Filipino.

Zubiri admitted that the contentious issue was the P51-billion alleged pork barrel.

“If it looks like pork, chopped like pork, disbursed like pork, then it must be pork. We can no longer fool the people,” Lacson said.

“I hope Cong. Andaya (Camarines Sur Rep. Rolando Andaya) and his colleagues read the full text of the SC (Supreme Court) ruling outlawing pork barrel. It’s not just post-legislation vs pre-Iegislation that is the definition of pork. Hence all informal practices with the same import and effect that the Court deems to be acts of grave abuse of discretion amounting to lock or excess of discretion are also declared void,” he said.

Lacson maintained he has no pork barrel, contrary to the allegation of some congressmen that senators also have their own pork barrel amounting to P200 million.

“in the Senate, I can only speak for myself, I don’t have P200 million or whatever amount. Not only int he 2019 budget but all past national budgets,” he noted.

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