House sum­mons DBM chief on ‘pork’ in 2019 bud­get

The Philippine Star - - NEWS - By JESS DIAZ

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.

Col­lec­tion ef­fi­ciency

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.

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