Senators, congressmen to get millions of pesos from budget

The Mindanao Examiner Regional Newspaper - - First Page -

LAWMAKERS WOULD get millions from the 2019 budget for their pet projects, as they have “traditionally” received, House Majority Leader Rolando Andaya told CNN Philippines’ The Source.

Andaya explained that congressmen would receive around 60 million for projects, while senators would get 200 million.

The House Majority Leader said they could use the allocation for health, education and public works.

He said this is within “the realm of budget authorization” and that they are trying their best to comply with the 2013 Supreme Court decision which outlawed the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) or more popularly known as the pork barrel.

The amount is similar to the PDAF received

by lawmakers before it was declared unconstitutional for letting lawmakers to participate or intervene in the execution of the budget.

Previously, the PDAF system allocated a lump sum of 70 million to congressmen and 200 million to senators. Lawmakers would determine where these funds would go after the enactment of the budget. This allegedly allowed some legislators to pocket funds by funneling them through bogus non-government organizations.

Now, Andaya said, the millions which would be given to lawmakers would have to be itemized.

“It has to be clear. It’s not a lump sum. We are compliant with the Supreme Court decision. The legislature, the Senate and the House cannot interfere in the post-enactment phase of a budget,” he said. Senator Ping Lacson has alleged that despite being outlawed, the 2019 budget is still padded with pork amounting to 130 billion.

“’Pag sinabing appropriation for their district ang interpretation ko lagi dun PDAF,” Lacson said in a forum at the Philippine Daily Inquirer in April.

House Speaker Gloria Arroyo has said that all congressmen, even those in the opposition, would receive budget allocations — going against the practice of former House leaderships who slapped opposition lawmakers with zero budget.

“Bakit ko naman zizeruhin ‘yung healthcare ng isang distrito kung ‘di lang siya bumoto sa isang priority bill which he personally feels is not favorable to him?” Andaya said. “We’re fair to everyone.”

As everything is itemized, Andaya insisted that the 2019 budget is porkfree. The House passed the 3.757-trillion 2019 General Appropriations Act last Nov. 20, but the Senate is not eyeing the budget’s passage until January 2019. This means that the government would have to operate on a re-enacted budget for the first month next year.

A budget is reenacted when Congress fails to pass the budget bill by the end of the fiscal year. This means that the budget for this year will repeat for next year, including all projects itemized for that year.

Budget Secretary Benjamin Diokno warned that the delayed approval of the budget may result in a five-month implementation gap for new projects. He added that the re-enactment of the budget would also delay salary hikes for civilian and military personnel.

But Andaya, who was Arroyo’s Budget Secretary from 2006 to 2010 when the budget was often re-enacted, said that “there’s really nothing to be scared of” in a re-enacted budget. “The sky will not fall down. Government will still work. The increases in salary will still happen. The infrastructure projects, with the multi-year obligational authority, are still going on and will still go on,” Andaya said, noting that there is “no difference” in the budget for this year and 2019.

He added that it is only Diokno who is propping up a re-enacted budget as a scare tactic and that the delay in the implementation of projects would be caused by the ban on the release, disbursement or expenditures of public funds leading to the May 2019 polls.

Andaya also defended Congress from accusations that it caused the delay of the passage of the 2019 budget. “When Congress tackles the budget and you see an error or something which needs improvement, you stay the cause of the President and you serve the interest of the people. You betray their trust if you don’t do anything,” he said. The planned shift to a cashbased budget became a bottleneck for the budget’s passage in the lower house, with the chamber suspending all budget deliberations until the Budget Department backed down from its proposal which would make the budget only valid for one year and three months.

Andaya also pointed to the 51-billion fund in the Department of Public Works and Highways’ budget which could not be explained by the agency and the Budget Department as a cause of delay. The House later realigned these to other agencies. The House Majority Leader also said President Rodrigo Duterte has asked them in a meeting to realign 10 billion for housing projects for members of the military.

Andaya said this would be tackled during the bicameral conference committee meeting on the 2019 budget, which, according to the Senate’s schedule, is slated from January 18 to 23, 2019. (By Xave Gregorio, CNN Philippines)

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