Philippine Daily Inquirer

HOUSE PORK INSERTIONS STALL BUDGET–LACSON

A reenacted budget for 2019 looms as lawmakers push for funding of pet projects, according to the senator. He finds it highly irregular that the bill is still being amended despite its passage on second reading.

- STORY BY DJ YAP

It’s the House of Representa­tives’ last-minute “pork barrel allocation­s” that are delaying the passage of the proposed P3.757trillio­n budget for 2019, making a reenacted budget possible, according to Sen. Panfilo Lacson.

Mincing no words, Lacson on Monday blamed House members for inserting funds for their pet projects in the general appropriat­ions bill, leading to delays and forcing the Senate to adjust timelines.

“They defy the rules just to make way for their pork,” the administra­tion senator told reporters in a text message.

“And I dare say, it’s all the fault of the . . . House that their insertions aka pork barrel allocation­s, which I guess is their main reason for the delay, will not be implemente­d if the national government operates under a reenacted budget,” he said. “It serves them right.”

Pork barrel allocation­s, a source of kickbacks, finance the pet projects of lawmakers.

House leaders have denied inserting last-minute pork barrel allocation­s in the budget measure.

Power shift

At a press briefing, Lacson said he surmised that the lastminute changes to the appropriat­ions bill was the result of the power shift in the House after Speaker Gloria MacapagalA­rroyo staged a coup in July to oust Davao del Norte Rep. Pantaleon Alvarez.

Since the original expenditur­e program reflected appropriat­ions that largely benefited Alvarez’s allies, Arroyo’s supporters soon began introducin­g changes in the bill to their own advantage once Arroyo had taken over, the senator said.

Opposition Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV shared this view, noting that the GMA group was different from the Davao group.

“These are different groups clashing. Even if they are allied, they have different interests,” Trillanes told reporters in an in- terview in his office.

Lacson said it was highly irregular that the House continued to accept amendments to the bill even after it had been passed on second reading. “It is quite anomalous, to say the least,” he said.

Under House rules, the period of amendments occurs before voting on second reading.

The House approved the budget bill on second reading on Oct. 3.

A House leader on Monday said the chamber would only be able to pass the budget on third reading on Nov. 28, leaving the Senate little time to scrutinize the appropriat­ions bill before the Christmas break.

“We’re at the final stages of reconcilin­g difference­s and amendments to the budget, and after that we need to get the budget printed,” Compostela Valley Rep. Maria Carmen Zamora, chair of the House committee on appropriat­ions, said in a text message.

Lacson said that by then, the Senate would have six session days left before adjournmen­t on Dec. 12.

He said this was not a reasonable amount of time to pore over the thick volumes of the budget proposal.

“We are not superheroe­s in the Senate to finish scrutinizi­ng the House version of the budget bill, including all the study and research prior to plenary debates, amendments, etc.,” he added.

Waiting for House version

“Further, once they approve on third and final reading, it takes 10 days, give or take, to print the general appropriat­ions bill prior to transmitta­l to the Senate,” Lacson said.

He said that this early, it was not difficult to predict a reenacted budget in 2019.

The Senate finance committee chaired by Sen. Loren Legarda, per usual practice, is already in the middle of panel discussion­s on the proposed 2019 budget, though the Senate will need to receive the House version before passing its own.

Senate President Vicente Sotto III said the possibilit­y of a reenacted budget was “not remote.”

“We don’t want that, but if the delay is too much, what can we do? We cannot just say ‘amen’ [to the House version],” he said.

If the budget is reenacted, it would be the first under the Duterte administra­tion.

Election year

A reenacted budget has historical­ly given the sitting President wider latitude to spend funds already appropriat­ed in the current year and automatica­lly appearing as savings.

Lacson observed that Arroyo’s presidency had been marked by reenacted budgets, especially during an election year.

“This would often happen under the former President every time there is an election. With a reenacted budget, they could throw the budget at anybody they want because it’s basically a huge lump sum,” he said.

“Congress has no control except oversight,” Lacson said.

Trillanes, however, said the form of a reenacted budget had changed since the Supreme Court ruling on the discontinu­ed Disburseme­nt Accelerati­on Program.

“Simply put, there will be no projects, no new items, no salary increases,” he said.

But Trillanes said he understood why House members were making such last-minute insertions into the budget bill.

“To be fair to the congressme­n, they exist there to represent their districts, so if the districts need funding, they will advocate for those interests,” he said.

 ??  ?? Panfilo Lacson
Panfilo Lacson

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