The 2020 P4.1 trillion General Appropriations Bill (GAB) was passed in the nick of time, with both chambers of Congress ratifying the final version of the budget bill.
The GAB passed Congress’ muster, despite the last-minute insertions that smell and taste like pork, as both chambers had ratified the final version of the national budget without the public hearing senators complaining about the lump sum insertions, as well as what can be termed pork, worth as much as P83 billion.
So, what happened to the expected opposition and strict stance of the Senate on hidden pork? There was only silence from the Senate unlike its members’ stand in last year’s budget, perhaps because this time around, the Senate also had its own version of budget insertions and, no doubt, their tasty pork barrel. How else would the senators and congressmen who comprised the bicameral conference committee have approved the final version of the national budget the other day despite clear last-minute insertions and lump sum allocations?
And this time around, neither the senators nor the congressmen paid any attention to Sen. Panfilo Lacson’s claim of pork barrel being all over the budget, and his statement that pork is here to stay failed to get any support from his colleagues.
As reported in the media, Lacson, who deliberately absented himself from the GAB signing, as well as the plenary session, bared that it is clear that lump sums, which have been outlawed by the High Court some years back, as well as vaguely described projects are part of the bicam report.
While Lacson hit out at the disguised congressional pork, he seemed to have gone soft on any criticism on his Senate colleagues, as surely, for the senators to have agreed to letting the congressmen have their lump sums and “vague” projects push through, they too must also have their share of their bigger pork, that’s for sure.
Lacson named some provinces that received additional allocations in the budget, including Albay with P670 million; Cavite, P580 million; Sorsogon, P570 million; Batangas, P502 million; Bulacan, P440 million; Pangasinan, P420 million and Cebu, P410 million, as well as 117 flood control projects worth P3.179 billion that appear to have dominated the insertions,” with eight projects uniformly budgeted at P60 million each.
Senator Sonny Angara appeared to justify the amendments that Lacson had bared, admitting, “Well, there’re really many insertions when you combine the ones made by the Senate and the House because that’s the work of legislation,” and that every year, lawmakers, especially House members, make amendments to fund infrastructure projects needed by their respective districts.
Angara stressed that the amendments or insertions cannot be considered as pork as they are itemized and conform with the Supreme Court ruling on lump sums in the national budget. Besides, he added, the Constitution grants Congress the power of appropriation.
That’s a strange justification Angara makes, considering that during last year’s Bicam budget sessions, the Senate side rejected the insertions and claimed amendments from the House version, so much so that the budget submission, as well as the presidential signing, was so delayed with President Duterte using his veto powers to junk the pork barrel amounts in the budget.
The senators then, before submitting the budget to the President, made it very clear just what and where the disguised pork could be found in the budget. Not so this year, with the new Senate and House — maybe because the Senate also had its amendments and insertions, and perhaps even in bigger amounts.
As mentioned by Lacson, “There are more corruption-driven insertions in the files sent to us that I have not mentioned. Thus, we will continue to diligently scrutinize it and inform the Department of Budget and Management and the Office of the President as I have high hopes that President Duterte will again display his aversion to corruption.”
He added, “pork is here to stay. I hope the President will again exercise his political will in vetoing line items that will obviously waste people’s tax money.”
But the House with its Speaker continued claiming a no pork budget. They said that, “We passed a budget with no pork, no parked funds and no delays with full transparency.”
Apparently, the Senate agrees with and embraces the continuing lie of a no pork budget.
Yet, it is clear that if it smells and taste like pork, it must be pork, right?