House appropriations committee chairman Rolando Andaya Jr. on Sunday accused senators of realigning P77 billion in the 2019 national budget
after it had already been approved by the bicameral conference committee after the Senate made a similar accusation against the House last week.
“Senators are desperately looking for ghosts in the 2019 General Appropriations Act. The problem [is], they seem to find ghosts everywhere except... [in] their own house,” he said in a statement.
“If post-bicam itemization of lump-sum budget by the House of Representatives is unconstitutional or irregular, what about post-bicam realignment by the Senate of P77 billion in the national budget?” Andaya said.
The realignment by the Senate, he said, was “nowhere to be found in the bicameral conference committee report.”
“Worse, unlike in the House of Representatives, there are no proponents for the realignment. Meaning, the funds are parked somewhere in the national budget. This is clearly parked pork,” he said.
The senators may try to justify the realignment by describing them again as institutional amendments. But how can they describe the Senate’s P25-billion realignment that was parked in the DPWH budget? Still institutional amendments?”
He said of the P77 billion in post-bicam realignments by the Senate, at least P25 billion was parked as additional funds for the senators’ pet projects in the Department of Public Works and Highways. None of this was contained in the bicameral conference committee report, he added.
“The House, for its part, did its job. We itemized our amendments. The itemization was within the parameters of the bicameral conference committee report ratified by each chamber.
“If lump-sums are not itemized, then that is illegal and unconstitutional. That was the main reason why we scrutinized the budget proposal because there were insertions made without the knowledge of officials concerned. Now, it seems we go back to the same practice after all has been said and done,” he added.
At the same time, Andaya said if senators feel that the 2019 ratified budget was flawed, they could ask President Rodrigo Duterte to veto some portions of it.
“We are not afraid of a budget that would show what agency would benefit and what programs would be funded,” he said.
“What are the senators afraid of about the itemized budget? As far as the House is concerned, we have all the records to substantiate our stand and the legal basis as well as the established traditions and practices to back us up,” he added.
He said Congress only itemized lump-sum funds contrary to the claim of Senate President Vicente Sotto that it allegedly realigned some P79 billion under the ratified 2019 national budget as reported to him by the Senate’s Legislative Budget Research and Monitoring Office.
“The proposed 2019 national budget, when ratified by the Senate and the House of Representatives, contained lump-sum funds that need to be further itemized by both Houses. That was the agreement at the conclusion of the meetings of the bicameral conference committee. The House did its part. We itemized our amendments. The people should ask the Senate if they did theirs,” Andaya said.
“We will print the 2019 General Appropriations Act so the people would know where the projects and programs that will be implemented this year from health to education to agriculture to infrastructure would go,” he said.
He said the itemization was agreed during the bicameral meeting, adding there was nothing unconstitutional when Congress itemized its P4.5-billion budget out of the total P15-billion health facilities enhancement program after the ratification of the bicameral conference committee report.
“The itemization was within the parameters of the bicameral committee report ratified by each chamber,” he said.
“The House did not touch the tens of billions in Senate amendments because per agreement, it was their duty to do such. If the House did not do its duty, then the budget would be vague and opaque. That will only leave people guessing as to where the taxes that fund the budget go,” he said.
He said instead of putting the entire budget in jeopardy, they could ask the President to veto the portions they opposed.
“That is his prerogative. Don’t take that right away from him. If the contested appropriations represent 2 percent of the national budget, then why should it jeopardize the uncontested 98 percent? Why hostage the national budget over unfounded and unreasonable fear?” he asked.
He also challenged Senate leaders, led by Senator Loren Legarda, committee on finance chairperson, to hold a joint press conference in the interest of transparency on the 2019 national budget.
He said such a move would enable the public to determine who is telling the truth on the realignments and itemization of the lump sum funds after the P3.757-trillion national budget was ratified by Congress.
Also on Sunday, Senator Panfilo Lacson said if the House insists on its amendments to the budget after it had already been ratified, the government would operate on a reenacted budget until August.
In an interview on radio dzBB, Lacson said Sotto would not sign the enrolled bill for President Duterte’s signature if the House sticks with its amendments.
Lacson earlier accused House Speaker Gloria Macapagal Arroyo of allotting P25 million for the Health Facilities Enhancement Program funds of each of the districts of lawmakers who elected her as Speaker in July last year.
Only P8 million each were allocated by Arroyo to the districts of lawmakers who did not support her election to the speakership, Lacson added.
But Andaya said the House was merely itemizing the lump sum HFEP funds.
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