By Genalyn Kabiling and Mario Casayuran
President Duterte is prepared to veto any unlawful allocation in the proposed 2020 national budget, while the Senate started listing down on Thursday thousands of lump sum projects inserted at the last minute in the bicameral conference committee report of the Senate and the House of Representatives.
Presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo assured the budget proposal will undergo a thorough scrutiny following reports of these last-minute insertions made by lawmakers.
“Provisions in the budget that run counter to the Constitution will be vetoed by the President, there is no change in that policy,” Panelo said.
The two houses of Congress ratified the proposed P4.1-trillion national budget for 2020 last Wednesday, hoping it will be signed into law by the President before the end of the year. The bicameral conference committee had earlier reconciled the versions of the spending plan.
The budget document is expected to be transmitted to the Office of the President for action.
Senator Panfilo Lacson, however, initially revealed that around P83 billion in insertions were apparently made by the House of Representatives before the bicameral committee signed the budget. Lacson said it was “revolting” that lawmakers “keep on dipping their dirty fingers” on the proposed national budget. But further scrutiny showed the insertions have already reached P95 billion.
The listing of lump sum projects was prompted by Lacson’s allegations of pork barrel insertions.
The list will eventually be transmitted to President Duterte who may or may not veto them.
“Of course we cannot influence the President. But we can inform him (President Duterte), tulad ng ginawa namin noong nakaraang taon (just like what we did last year),” Lacson, an anti-pork barrel advocate, said in a TV interview.
Lacson said he, Senate President Vicente C. Sotto III and Senator Juan Edgardo M. Angara, chairman of the Senate Committee on Finance, decided to submit to President Duterte the list of questionable lump sum appropriations inserted in the proposed 2020 P4.1 trillion national budget.
Both the Senate and the House of Representatives ratified separately the conference committee report.
Lacson noted that the insertion through the use of Universal Serial Bus (USB) by the House bicameral panel of P95 billion worth of pork barrel projects was made after both the Senate and the House of Representatives had ratified their bicameral conference committee report for the 2019 national budget.
The last-minute insertion amounted to treachery, he stressed.
Lacson said lawmakers are reportedly known to pocket a minimum of 25 percent as commission for each of their pork barrel projects.
A “Source file” in USB inserted at the last minute in the Senate-Lower House bicameral conference committee report reportedly contained P83.2 billion pork barrel projects while a “List file” contained P16.3 billion pork barrel projects.
But Davao City Rep. Isidro Ungab stood firm that there is nothing illegal in the proposed P4.1-trillion national budget for 2020.
The chairman of the House Committee on Appropriations said Congress approved the 2020 General Appropriations Bill (GAB) without any illegal provisions.
“We know that the President will not tolerate attempts to circumvent the Constitution or any other action that will prejudice the Filipino people. That is why Congress ensured that the GAB was enacted in accordance with law, rules and Supreme Court rulings and jurisprudence,” said Ungab.
But he said it is up to President Duterte if he would veto provisions, which he finds “not aligned with his priority programs.”
2019 budget delayed
It was recalled that the signing of the 2019 national budget was delayed because the House leadership refused to delete the P95-billion lump sum projects, forcing the Duterte administration to operate under a re-enacted budget for three months.
The Duterte administration only started using the 2019 national budget after the President, on the urging of senators led by Senate President Sotto, agreed with the Senate view that the P95 billion was “pork.” The President then vetoed the P95-billion appropriation.
“What we will do is to inform the DBM and Malacañang on what we think are questionable appropriations, which could not be implemented or which may be implemented but its quality is questionable,” Lacson said.
Because President Duterte was the only President who had the courage and statesmanship to veto the P95 billion early this year since it was clearly unconstitutional, the Philippine Senate saluted him, Lacson said. In vetoing some budget provisions, Duterte said he would “not tolerate any attempt to circumvent the Constitution or any action that will prejudice the people.” (With a report from Charissa Atienza)