House ‘Young Guns’ slam Senate wasteful spending

Delon Porcalla, Marc Jayson Cayabyab - The Philippine Star
House �Young Guns� slam Senate wasteful spending
Facade of the House of Representatives at the Batasan Complex in Quezon City.
The STAR / Michael Varcas, File photo

Koko: Look at your own backyard

MANILA, Philippines — With still unresolved differences over Charter change and absolute divorce, another word war has erupted between certain members of the House of Representatives and the Senate, this time over the use of public funds.

It started with the so-called Young Guns in the House describing the P14.4-billion gap in the original cost of the new Senate building as “wasteful spending.”

This prompted Senate Minority Leader Aquilino Pimentel III to tell the group of congressmen under 40 to first clean up their own backyard.

Construction of the new Senate building had an initial budget of P8.9 billion. This has now ballooned to P13 billion with an additional P10 billion required for completion, bringing the total to P23.3 billion.

“I advise the Young Guns in the House of Representatives to first look at the dramatic increase in the budget of the House from P16 billion —  as reflected in the President’s proposed budget — to the final amount of P28 billion in the General Appropriations Act of 2024,” Pimentel told The STAR yesterday.

He was referring to the proposed P16.58-billion House budget in the 2024 National Expenditure Program, which ballooned to P28.69 billion in the approved 2024 GAA.

Asked if he agrees with Senate President Francis Escudero that the building is too pricey, Pimentel said, “I agree with SP Escudero that we need to pause, study documents and then discuss the situation.”

The construction of the new Senate building is a “prime example of why stringent checks and balances are essential,” said 1-Rider party-list Rep. Ramon Gutierrez.

“The significant cost overrun calls for a reassessment to protect our nation’s fiscal health,” he added.

A dramatic increase in spending is a potential waste of public funds that necessitates a “comprehensive review,” said Ako Bicol part-list Rep. Raul Bongalon.

“Delaying the project for a comprehensive review is a responsible decision… Public infrastructure projects should reflect prudent financial management. We must halt this project until a clear and transparent review can guarantee that the funds are used appropriately and for the benefit of all Filipinos,” said Zambales 1st District Rep. Jefferson Khonghun.

La Union 1st District Rep. Paolo Ortega echoed the same sentiments.

The four congressmen also supported former Senate president Vicente Sotto III’s statement backing the new Senate leadership’s decision to suspend the construction.

Project contractor Hilmarc’s Construction Corp.’s past issues, as Sotto referenced, highlighted the importance of the suspension, Bongalon said.

Sotto’s endorsement is a significant validation of Escudero’s prudent decision, Khonghun said.

Chiz, Romualdez meet

Escudero and Speaker Martin Romualdez, in their first official meeting, only discussed legislation aimed at lowering rice prices and they remained silent on the issue of economic Charter change.

“A key focus of the meeting was the amendments to the Rice Tariffication Law, identified as a top priority,” Romualdez said in a statement.

House Bill 10381, which would strengthen the government’s buffer stocking authority and restore some functions of the National Food Authority, aims to provide “quality affordable rice to Filipinos and increase the income of Filipino farmers,” he added.

The Escudero-Romualdez meeting listed several priority measures, but Resolution of Both Houses 7 approved by the House was notably absent, including its Senate version, Resolution of Both Houses 6.

Romualdez is confident that with their meeting, the Marcos administration’s priority measures that have been passed by the House will eventually be signed into law.

Escudero said their meeting was “productive and encouraging.”

“This initial engagement was an essential step in re-establishing a strong and collaborative relationship with the House leadership, particularly after a period of strained relations between the Senate and the House of Representatives,” he added.

They agreed to set aside differences following the word war between the two chambers over the proposed Charter change through people’s initiative under the leadership of then-Senate president Juan Miguel Zubiri.

Escudero said he looked forward to meeting Romualdez again, in preparation for President Marcos’ third State of the Nation Address in July.

The legislature is on recess after adjourning the 19th Congress’ second regular session last May 22.

It will resume on July 22 for the third regular session.

Escudero and Romualdez also discussed the 20 House-approved priority measures of the Legislative Executive Development Advisory Council, measures identified in the 2023 State of the Nation Address and the common legislative agenda.

The House has approved 56 of 59 measures identified in the CLA, with the remaining measures — Electric Power Industry Reform Act amendments, National Defense Act and Budget Modernization Bill — still under consideration.

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