House budget chief on embedded ‘pork’: Let Palace decide

Jess Diaz - The Philippine Star
House budget chief on embedded �pork�: Let Palace decide
The President scrapped a total of P95 billion in last-minute realignments made by the House last year.
STAR / File

MANILA, Philippines — The head of the House of Representatives committee on appropriations would neither confirm nor deny reports that tens, perhaps hundreds, of billions in pork barrel funds are embedded in the proposed P4.1-trillion national budget for next year.

“I don’t want to comment any further because the next step will be with the Office of the President. The ball will soon be in their hands,” Davao City Rep. Isidro Ungab told reporters.

He was asked about the claim of Sen. Panfilo Lacson that billions in pork are included in the 2020 budget and about the report that at least one House leader was able to restore billions for projects President Duterte had vetoed or deleted in the 2019 budget.

The President scrapped a total of P95 billion in last-minute realignments made by the House last year.

Ungab, who was Davao City council appropriations committee chairman when Duterte was city mayor, said the President knows a pork barrel appropriation when he sees one.

“I don’t want to influence their decision whether yes or no, with veto or without veto, or will it be accepted fully. It will be the decision of the executive branch,” he said.

He said there are “very capable” officials and personnel in the Department of Budget and Management “who can distinguish what is correct and what is not correct, what is right or what is wrong (with the budget).”

He added that he also trusts the judgment of Budget Secretary Wendel Avisado, whom he had worked with when the two of them were Davao City councilors and later when the latter was city administrator of then mayor Duterte.

“So these people I know and have a very high regard for. So I leave it up to them,” Ungab said.

As for the two USBs the House sent to Lacson and which contain the budget adjustments made by congressmen, Ungab said he was sure the computer items did not come from him.

“No, no, not at my level. Maybe, higher level,” he said. He maintained the 2020 budget would now be printed and then sent to the President for his scrutiny and signing into law.

“I am very optimistic by Jan. 1, we will already have a budget for the operation of the government,” he added.

Signing being rushed

Sen. Sonny Angara, chairman of the finance committee, said the ratified budget  is already being printed, after which it will be signed by leaders of both chambers before being put on Duterte’s desk for his signature.

“In fact it’s being rushed so the President can sign it in a week’s time, which is the request of the executive department,” Angara told his colleagues in plenary.

The senator issued the statement in response to queries from Lacson, who did not sign the General Appropriations Bill (GAB) in protest over what he alleged were vague provisions worth billions of pesos.

Lacson cited as an example the P50 million allocated for asphalting in Catbalogan City in Samar that had no details, in apparent violation of the 2013 Supreme Court ruling that disallows identification or detailing of projects after the budget is signed into law.

“There’s no other project identification except asphalt overlay of Catbalogan City. We do not know where the P50 million would be spent or allocated, which roads in Catbalogan City in Samar,” he said.

Angara, however, pointed out the details have been submitted for inclusion in the printing of the GAB, and the same list will be provided to Lacson and Senate President Vicente Sotto III.

He expressed appreciation for Lacson’s participation in the budget-making process that led to improvements in the GAB as submitted by the House.

“I think we made significant improvements in our budgeting system, with the level of specificity of projects, I think we’ve eliminated the chance for duplication for multiple projects where there is a lot of perhaps juggling of funds that may happen,” Angara said.

DOTr budget cut

Meanwhile, Congress cut the budget of the Department of Transportation (DOTr) by P46.6 billion to P99.4 billion following the agency’s dismal spending performance.

Congress has realigned about P527 billion in budget as submitted by Malacañang last August by making cuts in the budget of agencies with dismal spending performance, including the DOTr, whose funding was cut by P46.6 billion to P99.4 billion.

Sen. Christopher “Bong” Go earlier said President Duterte has ordered the DOTr and other concerned agencies to speed up the completion of their infrastructure projects under the Build Build Build program so the public can benefit from them.

Go said he would be the first to investigate any whiff of corruption or irregularity in such projects.

Senators earlier warned the DOTr’s P357-billion Metro Manila Subway was a white elephant in the making owing to distortions made in its original alignment that led to dangerous design changes, the bloating of its cost and uncertainty in funding for the entire mega project. –  With Paolo Romero


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