Asked for reaction to Lacson’s suggestion, Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea said in a text message: “Let us not preempt the President.”
KJ Rosales/File
Duterte urged: Veto ‘pork barrel’ in 2019 budget
Cecille Suerte Felipe, Jess Diaz (The Philippine Star) - February 6, 2019 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — Vetoing the “pork” in the P3.757-trillion budget for 2019 would be an affirmation of President Duterte’s much-touted strong political will, Sen. Panfilo Lacson said yesterday.

Asked for reaction to Lacson’s suggestion, Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea said in a text message: “Let us not preempt the President.”

In a post on his Twitter account, Lacson said the President, who had shown strong political will in a number of controversial issues in the past, can expunge the pork barrel from the budget using his line-item veto power.

“Mr. President, you have displayed your strong political will on several occasions. This time, use your line-item veto power over the 2019 appropriations measure by removing all the ‘pork’ inserted by lawmakers who are incorrigibly insatiable and simply ‘beyond redemption,’” he said.

Under the 1987 Constitution, the President “shall have the power to veto any particular item or items in an appropriation, revenue or tariff bill, but the veto shall not affect the item or items to which he does not object.”

Lacson earlier bared the presence of billions of pesos of “pork” in the proposed budget, including at least P160 million for each House member.

The P160 million includes P70 million for “hard” projects such as roads and flood control; and P30 million for “soft” projects such as textbooks and scholarships.

Speaker Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo added P50 million to the budget for “hard projects” and P10 million for soft projects. Some House members reportedly received much more.

Even some senators had been found to have individual amendments totaling P23 billion.

Lacson said that while his revelations prompted some “talking heads” to muddle the issue, it turned out they were actually advancing his cause in educating the public more about the “evil pork” in the national budget.

He has issued a challenge to all fellow lawmakers to make public their amendments to the budget bill, just as he has done by posting his institutional amendments on his website.

“The national budget belongs to the people because it comes from taxpayers’ money. It is bad enough if the money is not used properly; it is much worse if the money is abused by those in government in the form of pork,” Lacson stressed.

“The national budget is the lifeblood of our country. If we allow pork to ruin the budget, we taxpayers will suffer,” he added.

Budget OK set today

Despite the controversy raised by Lacson, there seems to be no stopping the House from finally approving the proposed P3.757-trillion budget.

The final shape of the spending bill will appear in the report of the bicameral (bicam) conference committee jointly chaired by Camarines Sur Rep. Rolando Andaya Jr., appropriations committee chairman, and his Senate counterpart Loren Legarda.

“I had a private meeting with Senator Legarda just this morning and we both committed that we will have it passed by Wednesday. How we get there is another problem,” Andaya told The Chiefs show on One News Cignal TV on Monday night.

Asked yesterday what he meant by their commitment to pass the budget proposal by today, Andaya said, “I will try to do both – bicam and (House) plenary.”

Under their calendar of sessions, the House and the Senate have only until Friday to ratify the conference committee report on the proposed budget for this year.

Congressmen convene only from Monday through Wednesday, while senators have until Thursday to finish the matter. Senators are unlikely to extend their session up to Friday.

“All talks of a reenacted budget are baseless. The 2019 national budget will be ready for the President’s signature next week,” Andaya said.

He said all talk about pork barrel funds “is useless unless we see the whole picture.”

“The House conferees have demanded to see the lump-sum savings of the DBM (Department of Budget and Management) for 2018. We knew from the beginning it would not be granted, for that is where the DBM pork lies. Documents in our possession show that for 2017, a total of P370 billion was generated in savings. This amount was at the full disposal of Secretary (Benjamin) Diokno,” he said.

He added the amount of 2018 savings could be higher.

The House leader added that Diokno has at his disposal funds that are “more than enough to sway the outcome of the 2019 elections, if he wants to.”

The Senate and House panels in the budget conference have tasked Andaya and Legarda to resolve their disputes on the proposed outlay. The two lead conferees are scheduled to meet again this morning.

Andaya has apparently abandoned some conditions he had set for the bicam talks, like requiring Diokno to submit a report on savings and unused funds for 2017 and 2018, and compelling senators to reveal their budget insertions, location of projects and their proponents, which the latter have resisted.

So far, only Lacson and Sens. Ralph Recto and Legarda have admitted to proposing insertions.

Lacson said he proposed “institutional amendments,” or those submitted by agencies, including more than P4 billion for an anti-terrorism Army battalion.

Recto said his proposed changes included billions for the universal health care program, while among Legarda’s realignments are for Antique, where she is seeking a congressional seat in the May elections.

The House for its part has not released the final list of budget insertions it made when it approved its version of the budget and their authors.

What it disclosed was a listing of members with huge infrastructure allocations under the original budget proposal submitted by President Duterte to Congress in July. Former speaker Pantaleon Alvarez topped that list with more than P8 billion.

“I think the framework of an agreement is there. It’s just the cooperation of the executive, specifically the DBM, that we’re waiting for now. It can be done even this evening,” Andaya told The Chiefs show on Monday.

He said lawmakers would have to approve the budget “painfully,” even with Diokno’s alleged refusal to help.

He said he could live with having the budget proposal passed without several issues being resolved.

He added that the House could still attend to those concerns by exercising its oversight function during the long election campaign recess. – With Alexis Romero

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