Debates are healthy, and for Senate President Vicente Sotto III, no “ceasefire” is needed between “pork barrel” critic Sen. Panfilo Lacson and several congressmen he accused of masterminding insertions and diversion of funds intended for the 2020 national budget.
The Senate leader said the people would rather prefer a “no ceasefire” agreement between the two chambers if only to squeeze out the truth concerning the next year’s proposed fund.
“You know our countrymen prefer no ceasefire (between the House and the Senate) so that the truth will come out,” Sotto said. “They want that because they are arguing about what? I am not arguing with them, but they are arguing over the money of the people.”
The Senate President noted that there had been threats that the delay of the approval of the budget will happen again as the Senate has yet to see the House version of the 2020 General Appropriations Bill (GAB).
“Well, your guess is as good as mine. Let’s see when we receive the budget,” Sotto added.
The Senate is currently deliberating its version of the P4.1 trillion expenditure plan for 2020 at the committee level, after which it will be sent to the plenary for debates and amendment before it undergoes second and third readings.
Once passed, the Senate and House versions of the budget will undergo a Bicameral Conference where contingents of each chamber will reconcile differences in their budget versions.
After the approval of the Bicameral Conference Committee, the Senate and the House will approve the budget in their respective chambers and the final version of the GAB will be sent to President Rodrigo Duterte for approval.
House Appropriations Committee chairman Isidro Ungab said the House will transmit its budget version to the Senate today.
Villafuerte, meanwhile, called on Senator Lacson to impose his own “ceasefire” to halt the word war between the two chambers regarding the pork insertions in the 2020 budget.
Lacson earlier disclosed that the House of Representatives planned to allocate P1.5 billion per deputy speaker and P700 million under the 2020 national budget, although House leaders denied it. They sought Lacson’s apology for the statement.
“There is no such thing as a ceasefire because the Senate blasted Congress as an institution. So, I think it’s best if Lacson would declare the ceasefire,” Villafuerte said, adding that just like Lacson, the House will also not stop fighting pork.
“We are very confident that the budget will be approved in the Senate because it will see that there are no illegal insertions, no pork,” said the Camarines Sur Second District Representative.
Lacson and Senate Minority Floor Leader Franklin Drilon earlier questioned the “anomalous” budget process at the House, specifically the plan to allow lawmakers to introduce individual amendments to the budget bill.
Villafuerte said there is nothing illegal in the move and said this has happened in the past. He also stressed that it is clear in the Constitution that both houses of Congress can determine their own rules of procedure.
Despite the word war between the two chambers, which originated from Lacson’s accusations that the House has inserted P54 billion in pork allocations for its deputy speakers, Villafuerte hopes the feud will soon be resolved.
Meanwhile, House Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano reported amendments to the 2020 budget bill have been given stamps of approval by the members of the House.
Cayetano said the small committee tasked to deliberate on the institutional and individual amendments to the budget bill has realigned a total of P9.5 billion from the P4.1 trillion national budget.
Of the P9.5 billion, P3.5 billion will go to Department of Agriculture for the purchase of palay.