The battle for the 2019 budget is not yet over despite the bicameral conference committee’s recent approval as it had shifted to the Palace, which said yesterday President Rodrigo Duterte will comb through its “every provision” amid allegations of pork barrel insertions.
Presidential spokesman Salvador Panel also stressed that the Chief Executive would be “scrutinizing every face, every provision of the budget” that was ratified by both houses of Congress last week and is now awaiting his signature.
Panelo said the 2019 budget was designed to accelerate programs the Duterte administration has in the pipeline for infrastructure development, poverty reduction, social services and peace and order.
What they can do under the Constitution is to override a veto. You don’t have to go the Supreme Court
“Thus, Mr. Duterte will make sure this year’s National Expenditure Program (NEP) is in conformity with the Constitution,” he said.
He added the President will veto “anything he feels is not correct or irregular.”
“It’s there. It’s a power of the President to veto. What they can do under the Constitution is to override a veto. You don’t have to go the Supreme Court,” stated Panelo.
“If the President vetoes a measure, then Congress can override the veto by the required number of votes. That is the mechanism,” he continued.
Panelo said anyone who feels the national budget violates the anti-pork system can seek relief from the Supreme Court.
This, after House Appropriations chairman and Camarines Sur Representative Rolando Andaya Jr. said he would join forces with Senators Panfilo Lacson and Franklin Drilon in questioning a veto message of the President should the appropriations for this year reflect the restoration of the P75 billion allegedly inserted by Department of Budget and Management (DBM) Secretary Benjamin Diokno.
Andaya also accused Diokno of conniving with Cabinet Secretary Karlo Nograles for the “reinsertion” of the said amount.
“It’s their right to question anything that they feel should be subject to a petition before the Supreme Court. That’s their right,” Panelo said.
“I’m sure Mr. Diokno and Mr. Nograles have the competence and the expertise to respond to the allegation of Mr. Andaya,” he added.
The SC in 2013 ruled the “pork barrel” system was in violation of the Constitution, which prohibits “personal, lump-sum allocations to legislators from which they are able to fund specific projects which they themselves determine.”
Resurrection not allowed
President Rodrigo Duterte is not allowed under the Constitution to introduce new items or bring back items that have already been deleted by Congress, which makes the claims of Andaya “unnecessary speculation,” Diokno said.
Andaya suggested the P75 billion worth of funds would be restored to the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) through the President’s veto message after these were realigned by Congress to other projects.
“Congress should respect the President’s constitutional power to veto. It is improper for a legislator to interfere with the President’s constitutional power or to encourage such wild speculation around it,” said the Budget chief.
“Congress has done their job. They should let (the Executive) do ours. If they are not happy with the President’s veto message, they may still override it through a vote. That is the essence of checks and balances” he explained.
The DBM is tasked to review the enrolled General Appropriations Bill (GAB) and submit appropriate recommendations to the President.
“If it’s an improvement over our proposal, we recommend concurral. We will not veto it. But if it’s worse than what we proposed, we might recommend a veto – line-item veto,” Diokno said.
Andaya: Contractors upset
Slamming Diokno anew, Andaya claimed contractors who already “paid commissions” for the P75 billion “insertion” in the DPWH budget were upset that their cash advances “will be put to naught.”
He noted that both the Senate and the House of Representatives have successfully realigned the said insertion that was introduced in the National Expenditure Program (NEP) without prior consultation with DPWH Sec. Mark Villar.
“Sen. Ping Lacson’s source is right on the dot. The P75-billion insertion had already been peddled to contractors across the country. The amount of commission asked by proponents, however, ranges from 10 percent to 20 percent per project, according to my sources,” Andaya claimed.
He added that according to DPWH Undersecretary Ma. Catalina Cabral during the House hearing, these projects were already bidded out and all are ready for awarding to the “favored” contractors upon the signing of President Rodrigo Duterte of the P3.757 trillion national budget.
Missing report copies
At least two senators lamented Senate Finance committee chairman Loren Legarda’s failure to provide copies of the bicameral conference committee report for the “pork barrel” laden 2019 proposed national budget to fellow senators prior to its approval — leaving no time for them to scrutinize the measure.
In a phone-patch interview by Senate reporters yesterday, Sen. Panfilo Lacson said that Legarda’s failure to provide him and Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon with copies of the bicameral report prompted him to skip the final meeting last Friday in Camp Aguinaldo.
On Saturday, the senator mentioned that P2.8 billion suspected “pork barrel” was inserted allegedly by Legarda for Antique province where she is eyeing the lone congressional district in the coming May midterm elections.
Since Sunday, the Daily Tribune has been trying to get the side of Legarda over Lacson’s allegation of insertion, but to no avail.
According to Lacson, Legarda’s alleged amendments were among the P23 billion suspected “pork” inserted by some senators in the national budget on top of the P160 million for each of the 297 members of the House of Representatives.
He said he and Drilon requested Legarda for copies of the report a day before the final meeting – apparently for them to have enough time to scrutinize the final version of the proposed General Appropriations Act (GAA) of 2019.
“We requested, especially me and Senator Drilon. We talked about it and we brought it up with Senator Loren that, before the signing of the bicam report, prior to ratification, we should be given copies of what was agreed upon in the small group so that we can review, even within 24 hours for us to know what was contained,” said Lacson.
Apparently, Legarda failed to provide Lacson and Drilon with the requested copies.
Ping skips signing
“That’s exactly the reason why I decided not to attend anymore the signing ceremonies. Why should I sign when I don’t even know what is contained and don’t have time to scrutinize it,” he explained.
For his part, Drilon lamented, “it is unfortunate that the Senate did not have sufficient time to review the General Appropriations Bill submitted by the House of Representatives and the reconciled version of the conference committee.”
Drilon, in airing his dissenting vote to the budget measure, said that favoring the report is tantamount to signing a blank check.
According to Lacson, just like in previous budget deliberations, some lawmakers were only concerned about their individual amendments and do not care scrutinizing the entire measure.
“What is happening is that some bicam members are only checking if theirs were carried. If their amendments are carried, they don’t care to what is contained in the others. As if to each his own interest,” said Lacson.
“It’s very self-centered and individualistic. They forget about the country. They forget about the role of Congress in the budgeting process,” he added.
After losing in the budget vote, the senator is now counting on President Duterte to exercise his veto power to rid the proposed 2019 GAA with “pork barrel.”
Strong will needed
He cited Mr. Duterte’s strong political will as evidenced by his effort to rehabilitate Manila Bay and Boracay and the settlement of Mighty Corp.’s tax deficiency.
With Elmer N. Manuel, Marrio J. Mallari