“Definitely, (Duterte will scrutinize the budget) as he has done so in the past. We should always remember that he is a lawyer,” Panelo said at a press briefing. “That is his constitutional duty – to scrutinize budget.”
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Duterte to scrutinize budget amid pork claims – Palace
Alexis Romero (The Philippine Star) - September 25, 2019 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — Malacañang will scrutinize the proposed budget for next year and not allow illegal items to taint government spending, presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo said yesterday amid fresh allegation of “pork” insertions in the expenditure program.

“Definitely, (Duterte will scrutinize the budget) as he has done so in the past. We should always remember that he is a lawyer,” Panelo said at a press briefing. “That is his constitutional duty – to scrutinize budget.”

Senate President Vicente Sotto III said he and his colleagues will thoroughly comb through the budget program, which they hope to pass before end-November.

Sen. Panfilo Lacson – citing sources – claimed last Monday that each member of the House of Representatives would get P700 million while the 22 deputy speakers would receive P1.5 billion each under the proposed P4.1-trillion budget for next year.

The Supreme Court in 2013 declared the allocation of pork barrel – then officially called Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) – unconstitutional. Pork refers to lump sum or discretionary funds allotted to the pet projects of lawmakers.

Asked if he thought the supposed P700-million allocation for each House member was reasonable, Panelo said it would depend on the needs of their constituents.

“Now whether or not this is pork barrel, that will depend on the evaluation of the President consistent with what the Constitution dictates and what the Supreme Court (SC) has decided on the matter,” he said.

“If from his legal point of view is unconstitutional relative to this alleged pork, then he (would) veto that as he did prior to this budget,” the presidential spokesman said.

Sotto said if the General Appropriations Bill (GAB), which Duterte certified as urgent, is passed as planned, the two chambers of Congress would have enough time in the bicameral conference committee proceedings in December to reconcile the conflicting provisions of their respective versions of the measure.

“If they (House) submit it (GAB) to us this week or at the latest next week –since we have continuous (budget) hearings anyway – when we come back (from the break) in November, give it two to three weeks, we can approve it on second and third reading because it was certified as urgent,” Sotto told dzMM.

When asked about suspicions that the GAB has pork in it, he said such can be detected if some provisions are not itemized and do not appear to have been backed by planning and programming from concerned agencies and local government units.

He recalled events that led to the delay in passing of this year’s General Appropriations Act, particularly when the House made many changes to the budget even after its approval by the bicameral committee.

“You know during the bicam, the elbowing there is intense. But this time, there is good chance that by Dec. 1, we’ll be on bicam,” Sotto said.

Duterte vetoed 12 spending provisions and more than P95 billion worth of public works projects in the 2019 budget, saying he would not tolerate “attempts to circumvent the Constitution or any other action that will prejudice the Filipino people.”

The squabble among House and Senate leaders over alleged insertions in the 2019 budget derailed the passage of the spending bill, forcing the Duterte administration to operate on a reenacted budget in the first quarter.

The delay resulted in slower-than-expected growth in the first three months, economic managers said.

No more delays

Panelo expressed confidence that the latest controversy would not delay the passage of the 2020 budget.

“I remember last time, the squabble started within the House of Representatives, not in the Senate. This time, the House approval was swift,” he said.

Last week, House ways and means committee chairman Albay Rep. Joey Salceda confirmed that each member of the House would receive allocations for their projects but the amount he stated was P100 million, not P700 million.

Unlike the post-enactment authority declared illegal by the SC, lawmakers would have to seek project funds from agencies before the executive branch prepares the budget.

Panelo said the SC would be the “final decider” on whether the allocations for congressional projects in next year’s budget circumvented the high court’s ruling on “pork.”

“This is not pork barrel given the yardstick provided by the Supreme Court, then it’s OK. But ultimately it will be, one, the President first; and then if somebody questions it, it’s the Supreme Court,” he added.

Panelo said the Palace is also giving Speaker Alan Cayetano the benefit of the doubt as the lawmaker is drawing flak for the P1.6-billion hike in the proposed budget of the House of Representatives. Cayetano previously said a higher budget is necessary to improve the facilities of the chamber, boost its research capabilities, meet the spending requirement for the new Salary Standardization Law and fund additional committees.

Cayetano, meanwhile, stressed there is nothing illegal in the allocation of P100 million for every congressman in the 2020 national budget as he voiced confidence that there would be no more presidential veto of the appropriations program.

“We will not propose anything illegal or unconstitutional or detrimental to the nation. The President said he will veto anything illegal or unconstitutional, so we’ll make sure that we don’t propose anything that is illegal,” Cayetano told The STAR.

He said he sees nothing unconstitutional in the appropriations for priority projects of district and party-list lawmakers because these are listed under the budget of implementing agencies and therefore cannot be considered “pork barrel.”

Cayetano even revealed that some proposed projects submitted amounted to more than P100 million.

House leaders, meanwhile, took turns assailing Lacson for claiming that each deputy speaker would be allotted P1.5 billion and each House member P700 million.

“We are compliant to the Supreme Court (ruling on pork barrel). We want to make sure that this budget goes to the people, for social services, for projects, for the National Priority Program of this administration,” majority leader and Leyte 1st district Rep. Martin Romualdez said. – With Edu Punay, Paolo Romero, Cecille Suerte Felipe

NATIONAL BUDGET PORK BARREL
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