Diokno made the statement in response to allegations from Sen. Panfilo Lacson that amendments made by leaders of the House to the proposed budget violated a 2013 Supreme Court (SC) ruling on the defunct Priority Development Assistance Fund that disallows certain congressional acts on the government’s annual expenditure plan.
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Benjamin Diokno to House: 'Up to you to amend budget'
Paolo Romero (The Philippine Star) - December 11, 2018 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — Lawmakers are empowered to make amendments to the proposed P3.757-trillion national budget for 2019, Budget Secretary Benjamin Diokno said yesterday.

Diokno made the statement in response to allegations from Sen. Panfilo Lacson that amendments made by leaders of the House to the proposed budget violated a 2013 Supreme Court (SC) ruling on the defunct Priority Development Assistance Fund that disallows certain congressional acts on the government’s annual expenditure plan.

The SC ruling bars members of Congress from identifying projects after the signing of the budget into law. Some senators and House members said there was nothing wrong with pushing for projects during the budget approval process in Congress.

“Congress can really amend the budget. The power of Congress is to authorize the budget, and we prepare the budget, and the President submits what we call the President’s budget to Congress,” Diokno told reporters.

He said while the House is allowed to make changes in the budget, the role of the Senate is to also propose amendments or concur with the General Appropriations Bill (GAB) prepared by the lower chamber under Congress’ constitutional power of the purse.

Diokno said the House did not consult him in making amendments to the proposed budget but stressed it was the prerogative of lawmakers to do so without making consultations.

“Actually we can see what they (members of Congress) have done and we’re going to have what we call the statement of difference when the bill comes back to us and we’ll compare that to the President’s budget, and the President can veto them if he does not want the changes,” he said.

When asked about Lacson’s allegations that senators and House members have made questionable insertions or amendments, Diokno said: “There are no insertions, I can say that.”

The budget chief is expected to face grilling from House members today on the alleged congressional insertions amounting to billions of pesos.

At the budget deliberations at the Senate last week, Lacson claimed the House had made insertions totaling P56 billion that could be considered as pork.

Lacson also questioned the hike in the Tulong Dunong scholarship program for poor students from P1.6 billion as submitted by Malacañang to Congress to P1.9 billion when the GAB emerged from the House, and later to P3 billion when the measure was approved by the Senate finance committee, implying that senators also made their own insertions.

Sen. Loren Legarda, chair of the finance committee, had maintained there was no pork in the GAB as the amendments were part of the exercise of the power of the purse by members of Congress.

“In legislation, it always happens that what is filed will be different in end in the Lower House,” Legarda said.

“It’s the power of the purse so they have the right to change, remove and add according to what they see is right for the agency concerned,” she said.

At Malacañang, presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo voiced confidence in Diokno’s capability to explain the alleged insertions.

“Let us hear him (Diokno). They want to be enlightened – that’s why they ask,” he added.

Panelo maintained that Duterte did not interfere in the crafting of the proposed P3.757-trillion national budget.

“The President does not meddle. From what I understand, the agencies determine where the money will be placed. Perhaps line agencies are making requests,” the presidential spokesman said.

But Panelo said he believes questions about the alleged insertions were not meant to delay the passage of the budget. “Let’s always ascribe the presumption of regularity,” he said.

Panelo said President Duterte wanted Speaker Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo to explain the alleged insertions in the national outlay as raised by Lacson.

Panelo said Arroyo had informed him that Compostela Valley Rep. Maricar Zamora had already made an explanation about the alleged “pork barrel” in the budget. – Cecille Suerte Felipe, Alexis Romero, Delon Porcalla

BENJAMIN DIOKNO PRIORITY DEVELOPMENT ASSISTANCE FUND
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