Appropriations committee chairman Rolando Andaya Jr. of Camarines Sur said the proposed budget has been sent to the President for signing into law.
KJ Rosales/File
Scrapping of P95 billion ‘illegal pork’ up to Duterte — Andaya
Jess Diaz (The Philippine Star) - March 28, 2019 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — It’s now up to President Duterte to veto or reject up to P95 billion in pork barrel funds in the 2019 budget bill the Senate considers as illegal and unconstitutional, a key leader of the House of Representatives said yesterday.

Appropriations committee chairman Rolando Andaya Jr. of Camarines Sur said the proposed budget has been sent to the President for signing into law.

“Once enacted into law, I assure the taxpaying public that the national budget for 2019 will pass not only the test of constitutionality and legality but also of transparency and accountability,” he said.

He said the House made sure that “taxpayers from all legislative districts will get their fair share of the budget.”

However, Andaya said should the President decide to veto items in the budget bill the Senate claims are constitutionally questionable, the House would respect such decision.

On Tuesday afternoon, Senate President Vicente Sotto III signed the spending measure with “strong reservations.”

In a letter to Duterte, he said his “attestation is limited only to those items approved by the bicameral conference committee and ratified by both houses of Congress (last Feb. 8).”

In particular, he said it was his view that “it is unconstitutional that P75 billion worth of programs/projects under the local infrastructure program of the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) was funded (by the House) through internal realignments after the bicameral conference committee report was ratified.” 

He said the realigned funds were pooled from reductions in funding for roads, bridges and flood control structures.

“The President may wish to consider disapproving these unconstitutional realignments, pursuant to his constitutional power to veto particular items in the General Appropriations Bill (GAB),” the Senate leader added in his letter.

Sotto attached to his letter to Duterte an inch-thick list of House realignments amounting to P95 billion, including P75 billion in DPWH programs and projects.

The Senate head’s figure is close to the one Andaya’s Camarines Sur colleague Luis Raymund Villafuerte has come up with.

Villafuerte accused the House leadership of “committing an unconstitutional abomination in realigning to the turfs of favored members at least P92 billion worth of public works and health funds originally earmarked for over 80 other legislative districts under the GAB.”

“The damage has been done. They have held the 2019 budget hostage to their insatiable greed in realigning to favored legislative districts some P72 billion in DPWH funds, plus an additional P20 billion from the Department of Health,” he said.

“In so doing, the House leadership has put in jeopardy this year’s implementation of President Duterte’s priority programs to attack poverty and boost economic expansion to above 7 percent,” Villafuerte lamented.

Sotto affixed his signature on the same budget bill the House earlier sent to him and which Speaker Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo ordered recalled last week ahead of the reconciliation talks between the two chambers last Monday.

Until Tuesday, Sotto had consistently refused to sign the measure, saying he would not be involved in something that the Supreme Court might declare unconstitutional.

Sen. Panfilo Lacson, who was part of the Senate panel in Monday’s reconciliation talks, told radio station dzMM that negotiators had agreed the two chambers would pass a joint resolution to correct whatever is illegal or unconstitutional in the House version of the budget.

However, he said when senators met Monday evening after the bicameral negotiations, Minority Leader Franklin Drilon suggested that instead of a corrective resolution, it would be better for Sotto to sign the budget bill and at the same time formally express his and his chamber’s reservations.

This was the reason why the Senate panel scrapped the meeting scheduled for Tuesday evening and asked the House to just send back the same budget version Sotto had refused to sign, Lacson said.

The Senate panel briefly raised the issue on the transfer of billions in infrastructure and health funds to favored districts, but did not pursue it after the House team insisted it was an internal matter senators should not meddle in.

Villafuerte is apparently one of scores of House members whose districts lost funds. The others specifically mentioned by Sotto and other senators were Raul Daza of Northern Samar and Aurora Cerilles of Zamboanga del Sur.

HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES PORK BARREL FUNDS SENATE
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