Swine fever still afflicts House; veto is the cure

GOTCHA - Jarius Bondoc - The Philippine Star

Congressmen keep repeating the lie Goebbels-style that the Senate delayed passage of the 2019 national budget and so caused economic misery. In truth it was they who triggered the four-month impasse.

They transmitted the bill to the Senate only in Dec. 2018, to stampede the latter into blindly approving it before yearend. Too bad for them, alert Sen. Ping Lacson quickly ran the congressmen’s version through a fine-toothed comb.

Discovered were P75 billion pork barrels – ranging from P100 million to P5 billion per congressman. They pretended to remove the illegal items, only to reinsert them in Feb. 2019 under new guises. But sufficiently forewarned, Malacañang scrutinized the final figures. Not only the P75 billion but P20.23 billion more pork were unearthed. Consent would have enriched the congressmen by, but deprived the people of P95.23 billion. President Rody Duterte promptly vetoed the amount in Apr 2019. Thus was the grand theft foiled in the election year.

By then, however, collusive contractors already had contributed to the congressmen’s election bids last May. Juicy contracts were needed to repay them. So in deliberating the 2020 national budget starting Sep., the incorrigible congressmen again inserted pork barrels. For the first time, contractors shamelessly flocked to the Senate to lobby for approval.

Lacson was ready for the return of the swine. Again he examined the House version of next year’s budget. Among his findings were:

(1) Outlays of P60 million each in eight disparate congressional districts, for river dredging disguised as “flood control”. Lacson asked: are the rivers in the eight districts of exactly the same length, width, depth and siltation as to need exactly the same amount for dredging? Clearly the funds fall under the first of three Supreme Court definitions in outlawing pork barrels in 2013. They are self-awarded discretionary lump sums. Congressmen easily can pocket the public money through doctored accounting. “Flood control” is a favorite ploy of crooks because the dredging cannot be measured. “The backhoes are on parade rest,” Lacson described the projects. “They operate for short picture taking, then return to parade rest when the VIPs leave.” From those, congressmen can collect kickback of 50 percent, plus five percent for the chief of staff.

(2) Generic outlays for “asphalt overlay,” upwards of P70 million each. There is no mention of what roads are to be re-asphalted, or lengths and widths, Lacson noted. Just the general locations, like Albay and Sorsogon provinces and Catbalogan City. In contrast, asphalting works legally proposed by the Public Works department are detailed. Dimensions and scopes are stated, including the kilometer markers; amounts are down to the thousandths fractions of pesos. Apparently in the case of Lacson’s discovery, the congressmen have yet to select the road projects. He likened this to the old outlays of P70 million per congressman and P200 million per senator before the 2013 illegalization. From the second SC definition of pork barrels, those are post-enactment outlays in which legislators usurp executive authority. They unconstitutionally pick and implement executive branch projects. “Asphalt overlay” is another favorite ruse. Since congressmen get to select even the contractors via rigged bidding, kickbacks are a given.

(3) 1,253 unexplained realignments of funds from one agency or project to another. Those realignments total P83.219 billion, which the House relayed to the Senate by mere USB flash drive instead of formal stationery communication. No breakdowns were given of what budget entries were increased and decreased. Most glaring are 742 insertions, totaling exactly P16,345,000,000; oddly no loose change in the thousandths of pesos. Those fall under the third SC definition of pork barrels: “All informal practices of similar import and effect [to post-legislation lump sums], which the Court deems to be acts of grave abuse of discretion amounting to lack or excess of jurisdiction.” Those funds are for political patronage and subvert public accountability.

Last Apr. Duterte became the first President ever to have vetoed pork barrels since those were inserted more than a century ago in 1912. The SC enumerated all insertion types and guises that legislators have resorted to throughout history.

Malacañang has announced that Duterte will again veto the illegal changes in its proposed 2020 national budget. Well and good, since the congressmen patronize him by claiming to support his anti-poverty, anti-corruption programs, yet do the opposite by allocating pork barrels to themselves. Duterte has declared hatred for being patronized.

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Catch Sapol radio show, Saturdays, 8-10 a.m., DWIZ (882-AM).

Gotcha archives: www.philstar.com/columns/134276/gotcha

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