In an interview with reporters yesterday, Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano said they would make the move now that plenary debates are ongoing on the proposed P4.1-trillion national budget for 2020.
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DA budget may be augmented by P9 billion to aid farmers
Delon Porcalla (The Philippine Star) - September 11, 2019 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — At least P9 billion in government funds will most likely be reallocated in next year’s budget of the Department of Agriculture (DA) to help farmers adversely affected by the Rice Tariffication Law.

In an interview with reporters yesterday, Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano said they would make the move now that plenary debates are ongoing on the proposed P4.1-trillion national budget for 2020.

“I think P7 billion is just too small. I think the Department of Finance already collected more than P9 billion,” the congressman from Taguig-Pateros said. “We’re getting the data from the DA during our initial budget briefing.”

Stressing that the intention of the law has always been for the benefit of farmers, Cayetano said “we will get all those collected in the rice tariffication law. As I said, the unintended consequence of low palay prices, and some abuses of the middlemen, is causing all these.” 

“That is why we really have to accelerate the solution to this problem,” he added.             

Meanwhile, Davao City Rep. Isidro Ungab said the House of Representatives committee on appropriations has rejected requests from at least 60 congressmen to pad the proposed P4.1-trillion national budget for next year with P95 billion in pork barrel funds.            

“I had to be frank with them, that it’s difficult for us in the committee to entertain any request. If you include that, you have to take it from departments and other agencies, and it is the operations of these offices that will suffer,” said Ungab, who chairs the committee, yesterday.            

He revealed that the funds his colleagues were proposing to be added in the 2020 budget were those that President Duterte vetoed in April when the Chief Executive belatedly signed the 2019 appropriations bill after a three-month delay.            

Ungab said he understood the congressmen’s problem and the importance of the many projects that were denied funding due to the presidential veto, and has advised them to take their pleas to Malacañang or the agencies undertaking their projects.          

“There are those who are saying this bridge or that road is under construction, and the funding for it this year was among appropriations the President deleted from the budget. So the project is hanging,” he added.            

Alternatively, he said his colleagues could identify the infrastructures that needed to be completed so their funding could be included in the 2021 budget.            

“We are appealing to them not to be impatient,” Ungab stressed.            

Rep. Romeo Momo Sr. of party-list group Construction Workers Solidarity, an appropriations committee vice chairman, earlier said there was no way to add more funds to the proposed 2020 budget.            

“At this point, we just have to accept and adopt the President’s proposal,” he said.            

However, he said congressmen could still make changes “provided that these are within the program or project classes of expenditures because there are target performance outputs.”            

“For instance, if it is a flood control project, the change should also be flood control. It cannot be a road project and vice versa,” Momo, a former public works undersecretary, explained.

Two weeks ago, a feud erupted between deputy speaker for finance and Camarines Sur Rep. Luis Raymund Villafuerte and Ungab on the budget bill filed by the latter.

Ungab said Villafuerte wanted the bill, which contained the 2020 budget as submitted by Duterte to Congress, withdrawn and replaced with a new one with some changes.

That would have delayed the submission of the proposed budget to the House plenary and its eventual approval, the appropriations committee head said.

Villafuerte later admitted that at least 60 House members were not happy with the infrastructure funds the President recommended for their districts and wanted to make some adjustments.

Sources told reporters that the dissatisfied congressmen, whose districts lost funds due to Duterte’s decision to veto P95-billion in House realignments, wanted to recoup the amount by adding it to the 2020 budget proposal.

Wrangling over billions in alleged pork barrel insertions initially between congressmen and then budget secretary Benjamin Diokno and later between House members and senators delayed the enactment of the 2019 budget.            

Anti-pork Sen. Panfilo Lacson blew the whistle on the House realignments. He also accused his Senate colleagues of having their own insertions amounting to P23 billion.

Before the veto, then appropriations committee chairman Rolando Andaya Jr. of Camarines Sur came out with a “pork” list topped by the district of former speaker and Davao del Norte Rep. Pantaleon Alvarez with P8.4 billion.            

At the bottom of the list was Basilan with P408 million.            

Andaya also claimed that some senators and Cabinet officials “parked” funds in certain congressional districts for their favored contractors with the knowledge and connivance of most of the districts’ representatives.

Others, however, claimed they did not know of the funds hidden in their constituencies.

At the height of the House-Senate feud over pork barrel, Andaya alleged that one Cabinet official returned P200 million in commissions advanced by Mindanao-based contractors. – With Jess Diaz

DEPARTMENT OF AGRICULTURE RICE TARIFFICATION LAW
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