LAWMAKERS in the House of Representatives will be allotted P80 million each in pork barrel for projects that must be identified through line-item budgeting to avoid the lump sum appropriations that the Supreme Court deemed illegal, a senior member of the House said Sunday.
The allotment represents a P10-million increase for each legislator over the P70 million in pork barrel that they received previously, said Navotas Rep. Toby Tiangco.
The Senate has yet to decide if the allotment will be increased from the previous P200 million for each senator.
In an interview over radio dzBB, Tiangco said President Rodrigo Duterte granted the pork barrel increase to spur infrastructure development in the countryside, and is set to discuss the issue with senators on Tuesday.
The extra P10 million in pork barrel allotments will go to so-called hard projects, which used to be allocated P40 million.
Some P30 million, on the other hand, will be allotted to soft projects like scholarships to poor but deserving students and medical assistance to indigent patients, Tiangco said.
The House members were asked to submit their priority projects to be incorporated in the line-item budgeting when the 2017 national budget is submitted by Duterte’s economic team, headed by Budget Secretary Benjamin Diokno after the President’s first State-of-the-Nation Address or Sona.
“We were made to submit our pet projects last week. We have to identify our projects before the national budget is approved for the sake of transparency and in compliance with the Supreme Court ruling on PDAF [Priority Development Assistance Fund],” Tiangco said.
The first national budget under the Duterte administration must be approved by December this year to avoid a reenactment of budget.
In compliance with the Supreme Court ruling, Tiangco said, lawmakers are now barred from identifying and endorsing projects after the national budget or the General Appropriations Act got approved.
“The allocation now for the legislators’ projects can hardly be called pork barrel anymore because the high tribunal disallowed the lump sum appropriation and the realigning of budget after the GAA is passed,” Tiangco said.
Pork barrel is defined as the appropriation of government spending for localized projects secured solely or primarily to bring money to a representative’s district, but Tiangco emphasized that now, pork would not come as a lump sum allocation.
“This time, lawmakers are being made to identify their projects and submit the list of projects to be included in the GAA as a line-item budget for congressional scrutiny and approval,” he said.
The lawmakers’ pet projects, he said, would now show up in the GAA as a line item for the sake of transparency.
Under the Aquino administration in 2010, Tiangco said, pork barrel funds came in a single item in the budget without specifying the project or the province.
For the 2017 national budget, Tiangco said the 297 congressmen will be allocated a total of P23.76 billion but this will not come in a lump sum appropriation.
The line-item budgeting, Tiangco said, would make it easier for the lawmakers’ constituents to understand where their taxes went.
The approach will also ensure there is no overlapping of budgets with those of government agencies.
“What is being done here is for the congressmen to submit their list of projects to be evaluated by the implementing agencies if these were valid and no overlapping of projects and once cleared, would be included in the the line-item,” he told dzBB.
Tiangco said lawmakers not only legislate, but also deliberate on the national budget.
“The power of the purse emanates from Congress. Now, it is also our job to scrutinize the budget and determine where the funds would be appropriated,” he said.
Tiangco said with the new policy on pork barrel, the Duterte administration will not deprive opposition lawmakers of their allocations.
“Since our projects are incorporated in the national budget, these, along with the projects of the congressmen belonging to the majority, would be approved by Congress. So the administration could not simply impound the budget allocated for districts and declare these as savings, just like what they did with the controversial and illegal Disbursement Acceleration Program funds,” Tiangco said.