The House team was composed of appropriations committee chairman Rolando Andaya Jr. of Camarines Sur, Edcel Lagman of Albay and Ronaldo Zamora of San Juan.
Michael Varcas
Senate, House agree to retain ‘pork’ in budget
Jess Diaz (The Philippine Star) - March 27, 2019 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — The Senate and the House of Representatives will retain their respective pork barrel funds as part of an agreement that ended their three-month-old impasse over the proposed national budget for this year.

On Monday, negotiators of the two chambers forged the agreement, which Senate President Vicente Sotto III apparently accepted, prompting the negotiating teams to cancel the meeting they set for last night.

The House team was composed of appropriations committee chairman Rolando Andaya Jr. of Camarines Sur, Edcel Lagman of Albay and Ronaldo Zamora of San Juan.

Those who negotiated for the Senate were Andaya’s counterpart Loren Legarda, who chairs the finance committee, Panfilo Lacson and Gregorio Honasan.

Sources said that during the negotiations, the Senate relented on its stand that the “itemization of lump sums” the House did after the final version of the proposed budget – as contained in the bicameral conference committee (bicam) report was approved last Feb. 8 – was illegal and unconstitutional.

The House insisted that its itemization or listing of projects to support lump-sum appropriations previously agreed between Andaya and Legarda did not violate the law and the Constitution and had been the practice “ever since.”

In previous statements, Andaya said if what the House did was wrong, the Senate could be considered equally guilty of illegality and unconstitutionality.

He said senators also did their own itemization up to March 7, nearly a month after the Feb. 8 bicam report ratification.

The Senate never admitted this. Sotto claimed he and his colleagues did not touch the budget after the bicam report was ratified.

Sources said since the Senate budged on its stand during Monday’s negotiations, the two panels agreed to “respect and accept the realignments and changes in the budget each chamber has made.”

Also as part of the agreement, the House would again send to Sotto the same budget version it earlier transmitted to him but which was recalled law week as a confidence-building move preparatory to Monday’s reconciliation talks.

Sotto has refused to sign the budget bill for supposedly having “illegal and unconstitutional” contents. Once he signs it, it will be sent to President Duterte for signing into law.

By Andaya’s computation, the realignments, the bulk of which consisted of pork barrel funds, amounted to nearly P99 billion, which the two chambers would split.

A matrix Andaya gave to reporters on Feb. 8, after the bicam version of the budget was approved, showed senators sharing P62.2 billion or 63 percent of the P99-billion “pizza pie,” as Lacson called the pork barrel. The 291 House members will have P36.5 billion or 37 percent to divide among themselves.

The congressional pork barrel used to be known as Priority Development Assistance Fund before the Supreme Court struck it down as unconstitutional in November 2013.

It had an annual appropriation of P25 billion. Each senator was allocated P200 million, while each House member was given P70 million per district.

The congressional pork barrel held only P2.5 billion during the time of the late president Corazon Aquino.

The P99-billion “pork” was funded out of the controversial P75-billion Department of Budget and Management (DBM) “insertion” in the 2019 funding for the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) and reductions taken from other agencies or lump-sum appropriations.

Billions realigned

The entire P75 billion has been realigned, though P46.4 billion of it was retained with the DPWH no longer as a DBM insertion but as part of the lawmakers’ pork barrel.

Of the P46.4 billion, the congressmen’s share amounts to P20.7 billion, while senators have more than P25 billion.

Billions in additional realignments were given to other agencies where pork barrel funds are usually hidden.

The Department of Health received P17.6 billion, of which P1.6 billion is treated as a Senate insertion, while P16 billion was added by the Andaya-Legarda bicam.

The P16 billion would be spent for health facilities senators and congressmen will identify. There was no money for this purpose in the President’s budget proposal.

Other departments that were allocated additional funds and which are “pork” conduits are labor and employment (which received P2.7 billion), education (P2.5 billion), agriculture (P485 million), social welfare and development (P1.6 billion) and trade and industry (P1.5 billion).

Review

President Duterte will still review the P3.757-trillion budget program for the year, particularly the re-alignments made by lawmakers, before he signs it into law.

Presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo said the President may also exercise his line-veto powers over certain provisions which he might deem unconstitutional.

“That’s his judgment call. He will have to review the enrolled bill. And if it is consistent with the Constitution, he will sign it,” Panelo said.

“He has the right to veto re-alignments. But we commend the members of Congress for submitting the enrolled bill,” Panelo added.

“It is still the President’s call. Whatever the opinion of the House will not matter with respect to the President deciding whether it’s unconstitutional or not,” he said. 

What’s important now, he said, is that the enrolled bill will be sent to Malacañang. “Because we need to have a new budget,” he said.

Panelo lauded the Senate and House of Representatives for finally settling their differences. “They performed their respective jobs,” he said. –  With Christina Mendez, Mary Grace Padin

HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES PORK BARREL FUNDS
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