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House still under shadow of ‘pork’

YEARENDER - Jess Diaz - The Philippine Star
House still under shadow of âporkâ
Six years after the Supreme Court (SC) declared the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) illegal, the House is still hounded by allegations of pork barrel in the national budget.
STAR / File

MANILA, Philippines-- The controversial pork barrel funds issue continues to haunt the House of Representatives.

Six years after the Supreme Court (SC) declared the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) illegal, the House is still hounded by allegations of pork barrel in the national budget.

Just as in previous years, 2019 again saw Congress in a defensive stance while performing its “power of the purse” mandate or its constitutional duty to decide how the government will spend its budget for the succeeding year.

After the House recently ratified the P4-trillion budget for 2020, which reflected the amount proposed by the executive department in the National Expenditure Program, with several realignments by both houses and in the bicameral conference committee, Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano and other House leaders said the outlay does not have any pork barrel or “parked” funds.

But Sen. Panfilo Lacson claimed otherwise, insisting there are pork barrel funds in the ratified version of the budget.

Lacson has alleged that House members realigned P16 billion to fund their pet projects under the proposed 2020 budget.

The senator claimed that the P16 billion was part of the P95.3 billion in appropriations under the 2019 budget of the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH), which was vetoed by President Duterte when he signed the 2019 budget law in April.

The P95.3 billion worth of projects were “not within the programmed priorities,” he insinuated.

The House denied this. “There is no pork barrel in this budget as defined by the Supreme Court,” Cayetano declared at a press conference last Monday.

“Anything can be used for corruption but Congress made sure that there will be no projects that are prone to corruption like lump sums at the discretion of lawmakers,” he said.

Davao City Rep. Isidro Ungab, chairman of the committee on appropriations, expressed support for the Speaker’s position.

“The 2020 budget is pork-free... Attempts to label it pork-ridden by constantly redefining pork is unfair and misleading,” he said.

Ungab also rebutted Lacson’s claim, saying the “process and the product observed utmost transparency” and that senators also realigned funds “based on national priorities and recommendations of government agencies.”

Deputy Speaker and Mandaluyong City Rep. Neptali Gonzales II also denied Lacson’s allegation.

“We strictly followed the decision of the Supreme Court declaring the PDAF as illegal and prohibiting post-budget enactment identification of projects,” he pointed out.

Gonzales explained that they have also been complying with the prohibition on post-enactment insertions in the budget.

Another House leader, Deputy Speaker and Cavite 3rd district Rep. Jesus Crispin Remulla, also scoffed at Lacson’s insinuations.

He said the 2020 budget does not have any pork barrel as defined in the SC ruling.

He stressed that lawmakers no longer have discretionary funds in their legislative districts – unlike in the previous congresses when the pork barrel system was still allowed and the congressmen decide where to use funds in lump sums.

“There is no violation of the 2013 Supreme Court ruling because the funds are now with the implementing agencies. We followed the law, the Constitution and jurisprudence,” Remulla pointed out.

Lacson earlier claimed that the House version of the 2020 budget included P20 billion in parked funds that were actually lump-sum allocations, which the high court had also declared a violation of the 1987 Constitution.

He specifically cited P10.4 billion worth of questionable projects stashed in the DPWH and another P4 billion hidden under the “Other Financial Assistance to LGUs (local government units)” in the budget of the Department of the Interior and Local Government.

It was later clarified, however, that such allocations were not lump sums after the agencies gave detailed items and projects for such appropriations.

Lacson had also accused House leaders in the 18th Congress of planning to allocate P1.5 billion each for their districts – an allegation he later took back after failing to prove it. Cayetano also slammed the senator for “rumor mongering.”

900 bills processed

Meanwhile, Majority Leader and Leyte Rep. Martin Romualdez said the House processed a total of 900 measures since the 18th Congress convened on July 22, churning out an average of 28 bills per day during the entire 32 session days.

“In just 32 session days, we were able to steer the approval of 175 legislative measures,” Romualdez said, noting that the chamber received a total of 6,562 measures and 186 committee reports.

Bills approved on third and final reading were those amending the Foreign Investment Act of 1991, the Passive Income and Financial Intermediary Taxation Act and the Corporate Income Tax and Incentive Rationalization Act.

These bills are important parcels of the Comprehensive Tax Reform Program aimed at helping the Duterte administration reach the ‘A’ credit rating goal.

The administration is embarking on P8-trillion infrastructure projects, completion of which could go beyond 2022.

It was such achievement, lawmakers believe, that boosted the approval and trust ratings of the House and Cayetano, based on the latest Pulse Asia survey.

Deputy Speaker and Camarines Sur 2nd district Rep. LRay Villafuerte said the very high approval rating has inspired the House to work even harder in passing legislative measures that will benefit the people.

“It’s an honor to be part of this 18th Congress. The highest ever trust and approval ratings inspire us to be more productive,” he said.

Cayetano’s high ratings came after the country’s successful hosting of the 30th Southeast Asian Games where he served as chairman of the Philippine SEA Games Organizing Committee.

Looking forward, House leaders are confident that the chamber will continue to perform well in 2020 and maintain its very high public satisfaction rating.

“2020 represents perfect vision... What we can do is focus on things that matter – education, health, peace and order, defense and sports,” Villafuerte stressed.

Albay Rep. Joey Salceda, chairman of the ways and means committee, vowed to sustain the House’s commitment to funding the President’s key infrastructure and human development priorities.

“As chair of the committee on ways and means, I have three goals that we need to achieve by 2022: A-level credit rating, 8 percent GDP growth, widespread prosperity. We will work tirelessly to achieve these,” he said in a statement last Monday.

Salceda said they would prioritize measures involving taxation on Philippine offshore gaming operations, Motor Vehicle Road Users’ Tax, Mining Fiscal Regime and taxation on single-use plastics in 2020, which could raise at least P42 billion for the government.

“The committee also seeks to improve tax administration by studying structural reforms in the Bureau of Internal Revenue and the Bureau of Customs. We will likewise try to raise taxpayer morale by studying digital transformation of the revenue collection agencies,” he further bared.  

HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES

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