Lacson sharpens his ‘hide-and-seek’ skills

COMMONSENSE - Marichu A. Villanueva (The Philippine Star) - August 28, 2019 - 12:00am

As submitted already to the 18th Congress, a total of P4.1 trillion budget will finance the administration’s national expenditure program (NEP) in the fourth year into office of President Rodrigo Duterte. Although the approval of the annual General Appropriations Bill (GAB) must originate from the House of Representatives, the Senate can conduct already their own public hearings on the proposed 2020 budget. By way of tradition, both chambers have agreed to do this in fast-tracking the approval of the GAB.

As soon as President Duterte settles down from his latest official trip to China, Cabinet Secretary Karlo Alexi Nograles disclosed, the Legislative-Executive Development Advisory Council (LEDAC) would be convened at Malacañang a week after. The President leaves for Beijing today and would return to Manila on Sept. 1.

Aside from the 2020 GAB, the Cabinet Secretary is collating all the administration priority bills that each Cabinet Cluster has recommended for discussions at the President’s LEDAC meeting with the key leaders of the 18th Congress. “We have legislative measures that the President prioritizes and we hope Congress will deliver the same for the remaining three years,” Nograles pointed out.

Nograles echoed Palace’s optimism there won’t be any repeat of the “budget impasse” that stalled the approval into law of the 2019 GAA. He cited the current “super majority” at the 18th Congress would be more supportive of the President’s proposed 2020 GAB.

In fact, the Senate committee on finance chaired by Sen. Sonny Angara officially starts today his public hearings on the proposed 2020 GAB. A week after Department of Budget and Management (DBM) “acting” Secretary Wendell Avisado was appointed, he submitted the proposed 2020 GAB to the Senate leaders headed by Senate president Vicente Sotto III and Angara’s committee last Aug. 20.

This was a day after Avisado first submitted them to House leaders headed by Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano and the House committee on appropriations chaired by Davao City Rep. Isidro Ungab. The House started since last week their public hearings on the 2020 GAB.

As former House committee on appropriations, Nograles knows very well how they schedule approvals of each Department assigned to specific sub-committees.

Nograles estimates the Lower House would be able to approve the proposed 2020 GAA bill before both chambers of the 18th Congress adjourn for vacation on Oct. 4. They will resume their sessions after the Undas holidays on Nov. 5.

On the eve of the Senate scrutiny of the 2020 GAB, a social media staff of one Senator posted this on Twitter yesterday. “As he prepares to engage in yet another game of ‘hide-and-seek’ against pork in the 2020 national budget, Sen. Lacson is enlisting the help of the public in exposing such dubious insertions and useless appropriations.”

Of course, this refers to Sen. Panfilo Lacson who has made a vow to scrutinize the annual budget with fine-toothed comb, especially targeting the outlawed “pork-barrel” allocations wherever it may be found. Making allusion to a children’s play called “hide-and-seek,” Lacson has exposed to light multi-million, if not billions of pesos worth of questionable “insertions” in the past that went into the President’s budget through congressional amendments. 

One of those which Lacson uncovered was the so-called “parking” of funds that were re-aligned to certain executive departments. Thus, these stirred allegations that some Duterte Cabinet officials partook of these “pork-barrel-like” allocations in the 2019 budget. This was one of the controversies that caused the budget impasse that delayed the approval into law of the 2019 GAA.

“We cannot afford another budget impasse next year,” Nograles cited.

“We have a lot on our plate. So we call upon Congress now that the budget is with them,” Nograles urged them during our Kapihan sa Manila Bay last week.

Nograles pointed to the delayed approval of the budget law this year as having slowed down economic growth projections in the first half of 2019. “Right now we’re on catch up on spending due to the delayed 2019 budget law, so we’re having late spending,” he rued.

He, however, laughed off reported possible new attempts to bring in “pork-barrel-like” allocations allegedly embedded in the President’s 2020 GAB. “All of them (budget provisions) are itemized and identified and goes through scrutiny of Congress which has power to amend it,” he pointed out.

 “But obviously, we hope Congress will stay true to their commitment to pass and I know and I’m confident that Speaker Cayetano will deliver on the passage of the budget before they go to break so that the Senate would have ample time to go through it,” he added.

Avisado was appointed last Aug. 5 to take over from former DBM Secretary Benjamin Diokno. Also appointed to the Duterte Cabinet on the same day was Department of Agriculture (DA) Secretary William Dar who took over from Agriculture Secretary Emmanuel Piñol.

Prior to his Cabinet post, Avisado was serving as presidential assistant for special concerns at Malacanang that oversees the implementation of the government’s housing projects for survivors of the Yolanda onslaught. He previously served as City Hall administrator from 2004-2010 while President Duterte was still Davao City mayor. After which Avisado was appointed as assistant secretary in 2010 of former Vice President Jejomar Binay who was then chairman of the Housing and Urban Development Coordinating Council (HUDCC).

Since they were appointed in “acting” capacity only, both Avisado and Dar need not be submitted yet to the Commission on Appointments (CA) for confirmation. This is because Avisado and Dar were appointed while Congress is in session. Therefore, the speedy approval of the 2020 GAB is, of course, not hinged on the confirmation of Avisado as new DBM Secretary.

As Lacson sharpens his “hide-and-seek” skills in the scrutiny of the 2020 GAB bill, it would test the mettle of the “acting” DBM Secretary in shepherding its approval at the 18th Congress.

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