Senate to scrutinize proposed 2019 budget

The Mindanao Examiner Regional Newspaper - - News - (Jose Reganit) Cielito

SENATE PRESIDENT Vicente Sotto assured that they would scrutinize any amendments that the House of Representatives would make in the proposed 2019 National Expenditure Program (NEP) before it is approved into law.

Sotto said as far as the Senate is concerned, “nothing is written in stone,” especially in very important pieces of legislation like the General Appropriations Bill (GAB).

“Before it becomes the General Appropriations Act (GAA) which is the law already, we will scrutinize it the way the Senate scrutinizes it,” he said.

Sotto stressed that whatever the House amends in the GAB, whether a decrease or an increase in allocation, would be carefully studied by the Senate.

“Hindi naman kami pwedeng magpasa lang kung ano yung dumaan sa amin dito lalo na pagdating sa budget because the budget is the single most important piece of legislation that Congress has to pass,” he said.

Sotto’s statement came out amid reports that plenary deliberations on the proposed P3.757trillion NEP submitted by Malacañang were stalled, allegedly over the insertion of some PP55 billion allegedly intended to lawmakers’ projects in their districts.

Senator Panfilo Lacson also said careful scrutiny is needed, especially since the Senate was able to identify billions of pesos of supposed pork barrel funds in the past.

“Oo, nagawa namin ito noong 2016. May P8.3 billion na na-identify. Actually nasuportahan ng kasamahan ko sa Senado, ilagay ito sa free tuition. Kaya wala pa ang batas sa free tuition, nagkaroon ng pondo na P8 billion,” Lacson said.

He added that another P86 billion in pork barrel funds were identified in the 2017 budget lumped as a single allocation for road right of way settlement of the Department of Public Works and Highways.

As for the reported P55-billion pork barrel in the 2019 budget, Lacson said the funds were allocated to the Department of Education and the Department of Transportation for projects that were allegedly identified by congressmen.

“Kung kani-kanino man, yan ang hahanapin natin ngayon. Pero pork pa rin yan,” Lacson said.

Senate Minority leader Franklin Drilon warned that he will oppose the passage of the GAB itself if the insertions are retained. “I will oppose the passage of the budget and filibuster, if needed, if these pork barrel allocations or insertions remain,” Drilon said.

Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph Recto, on the other hand, expressed optimism that Congress would be able to pass the GAB on time despite the reported bickering in the House and the Senate's careful scrutiny. “We will wait for the House to pass their version of the budget. I expect the budget to be passed on time by December,” Recto said.

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