House summons DBM chief on ‘pork’ in 2019 budget
The House of Representatives has summoned Budget Secretary Benjamin Diokno to appear before the plenary session next week to answer questions on pork barrel funds inserted in the proposed P3.757-trillion 2019 national budget.
Minority Leader Danilo Suarez yesterday said Diokno’s appearance is tentatively set for Tuesday.
Suarez’s Resolution No. 2307 prompted the House to summon the budget secretary. The chamber adopted the resolution on Tuesday.
The minority leader invoked Section 22 of Article VI of the Constitution in asking for Diokno’s presence in plenary session.
The section provides that any Cabinet member may, by his own initiative or upon invitation, appear before the House or the Senate to explain any matter relating to his department.
In his resolution, Suarez said he wanted the budget chief to respond to queries about the proposed budget for next year.
He said the outlay “may be considered an election budget, considering the forthcoming midterm elections (in May 2019).”
He said Diokno should also address “issues regarding budgetary insertions.”
The proposed budget for next year is now with the Senate after a six-week delay in the House.
In a television interview, Albay Rep. Joey Salceda said the disagreement between congressmen and Diokno on the latter’s “cash-based budgeting” innovation caused an initial two-week delay in deliberations on the 2019 spending bill.
“And then we discovered P52 billion that could not be supported. We decided to realign this huge amount on Oct. 11, when we approved the budget on second reading, provided that the list of projects and programs to be funded will come from Malacañang, since this is their proposed outlay. The list never came. Preparation of the third-reading copy (of the budget bill) was delayed for one month,” he said.
Majority Leader Rolando Andaya Jr. said the DBM has not explained who inserted the P52 billion in the Palace version of the budget.
“Secretary Mark Villar (of public works and highways) told us it did not come from them. The DBM has been unable to give us the details. So if they could not explain it, maybe they don’t need it,” he said.
He said the House realigned the bulk of the money to additional classrooms and health facilities that the DBM had removed from the proposed 2019 budget.
Andaya pointed out that the DBM failed to provide even a centavo for the health facilities improvement program of the Department of Health.
Aside from the P52-billion appropriation that could not be explained, there is also the issue of congressional insertions.
Congressmen and senators have accused one another of hiding billions in pork barrel funds in the proposed budget.
Meanwhile, the House opposition Liberal Party bloc said the government can afford to suspend the fuel tax increase set to take effect next month.
Speaking for his group, Marikina Rep. Romero Quimbo said the Department of Finance (DOF) is projecting a P40-billion revenue loss for the whole of next year if the increase was scrapped.
“That could easily be offset through more efficient tax collection and through the various tax measures that the House has approved,” he said.
The LP bloc has filed a bill calling for the automatic suspension of fuel taxes based on inflation instead of on the price of crude oil in the world market. The measure also proposes to scrap levies on diesel and kerosene.
The bill is one of seven measures the House committee on ways and means tackled last Tuesday. The six others are resolutions supporting the previous decision of President Duterte to suspend next year’s tax increase before he and his economic managers changed their mind and opted to push through with the adjustment.
The committee chaired by Nueva Ecija Rep. Estrellita Suansing created a technical working group (TWG) headed by Quimbo to consolidate the LP bill and the six resolutions.
Quimbo, who plans to convene his TWG next week, is racing against time, since Congress is scheduled to adjourn its session for the Christmas holidays on Dec. 15. The fuel tax hike will take effect on Jan. 1.
Among the tax measures the House approved this week and last week were two bills increasing levies on alcohol and tobacco products, and another bill seeking the grant of a general tax amnesty next year to thousands of delinquent taxpayers.
Rep. Michael Romero of 1-Pacman, one of the authors of the amnesty bill, said the proposed amnesty grant is among President Duterte’s legislative priorities.