By Hannah Torregoza
Senator Panfilo “Ping” Lacson on Sunday scored lawmakers in the House of Representatives who are insisting that the maneuvering in the proposed P3.757-trillion national budget for 2019 was for “itemization” even after it had already been ratified by both houses of Congress.
According to Lacson it was also much more revolting for House “talking heads” for trying to invoke “transparency” for something they did illegally, particularly when they realigned a whopping P95.1-billion in the budget to favored districts.
“National budget: Don’t be fooled by congressmen tasked to make us believe they merely ‘itemized’ when in fact, they arbitrarily realigned to favored districts several appropriations already approved by both houses of Congress thereby sacrificing already vetted infra projects,” Lacson said in a post on his Twitter account.
“Trying to hide their unconstitutional post-ratification budget realignments by claiming they wanted to itemize lump sums in the name of transparency: If that’s not irony – or hypocrisy, I don’t know what is,” Lacson added.
The senator said these ‘talking heads’ in the Lower House continue to muddle the issue to confuse the public, with the claim they merely “itemized” what was discussed and adopted in the bicameral conference committee level.
Both houses of Congress ratified the bicameral report last Feb. 8. Senators insist that under the 1987 Constitution’s Article VI Section 26 that “upon the last reading of a bill, no amendment thereto shall be allowed, and the vote thereon shall be taken immediately thereafter…”
Lacson said the reality is that the House “realigned” several items, which he said “do not at all reflect the agreed provisions incorporated in the bicameral report.”
He pointed out there “is a big difference between itemizing, which is to present as a list of individual items; and realigning, which is to change or restore to a different state.”
Figures from the Senate’s Legislative Budget Research and Monitoring Office (LBRMO) showed a net increase of P95.1-billion in the House of Representatives’ realignments. This includes the slashing of P72.319-billion from the Department of Public Works and Highways’ (DPWH) Major Final Output (MFO) 1 and 2.
He also noted that the House rearranged or realigned P79.7-billion from several congressional districts to the other districts, and parked P70-billion in the DPWH central office after removing them from 87 District Engineering Offices (DEOs).
“Parking the P70-billion in the DPWH’s central office was meant to make it difficult for people – including myself – to trace where it will go. You could call it a veiled effort to conceal large ‘pork insertions’ of some congressmen,” Lacson pointed out.
The post-ratification tweaks by the House leadership included the Department of Health’s (DOH) Health Facilities Enhancement Program (HFEP) funds – where Speaker Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s allies got P25-million while those who did not vote for her got just P8-million.
Accordingly, Lacson said it was also House members who noticed the discrepancy who disclosed this information.
He also said the House’s realignments did not spare the Duterte administration’s “Build, Build, Build” legacy program as P72.319-billion was slashed from the DPWH’s MFO 1 and 2. The DPWH projects affected by the slashing include those that had already been planned and vetted for months, or even years.
Senate President Vicente “Tito” Sotto III earlier rejected the statement of House Appropriations Chair Rolando Andaya Jr. who insisted that the House will not agree to the Senate’s stand on the budget, which is to return to the old mode of lump-sum budgeting.
“We never said to return to the old mode. We said return to what we approved and ratified in the plenary. Therefore, do not remove and add from budgets that were not theirs in the first place. We stand firm. Recall what they sent then we can talk,” Sotto said.
The “Otso Diretso” opposition coalition had also earlier expressed their support to the position taken by the Senate leadership.
“We join the position of Senate President Vicente Sotto against signing the 2019 budget, which has been tampered by the House leadership,” Sen. Francis “Kiko” Pangilinan, the group’s campaign manager said in a statement.
“We will only affix our signature on the document that faithfully reflects the voice of Congress and ratified by its members. It is outrageous how attempts were allegedly made to squeeze kickbacks from the budget document that has yet to leave the halls of Congress,” Pangilinan stressed.