The House of Representatives is optimistic that Congress can ratify the P3.757 trillion national budget for 2019 before it adjourns later this week, as long as lawmakers can itemize some P200 billion in insertions.
“We agreed to ratify the national budget this Wednesday,” Camarines Sur Rep. Rolando Andaya Jr. said.
He said on Jan. 30, Congress decided to set the cap of lawmakers’ realignments at P200 billion, with an agreement to disclose all their amendments.
Andaya, committee on appropriations chairman and head of the House contingent in the bicameral conference committee, said the ratification of the national budget would ensure enough funds for the conduct of the 2019 midterm polls.
He said the bicameral committee is working to identify the P200 billion realignments in the national budget and to specify the beneficiaries of these adjustments.
He earlier said the Senate made insertions of P190 billion against the House’s P51 billion.
On Saturday, House Majority Leader and Capiz Rep. Fredenil Castro said Senator Panfilo Lacson who introduced P50 billion in institutional amendments into the 2019 budget should itemize the insertions.
Lacson on Sunday thanked the “talking heads” of Speaker Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo for actually advancing his cause in educating the public about the “evil pork” in the proposed 2019 national budget.
“I earnestly urge them to continue this public discourse. Many thanks to [congressmen] Castro and [Anthony] Bravo,” said Lacson.
“The more they talk, the more they enlighten the public about the evil pork in the national budget, if unwittingly so,” Lacson said.
On Friday, Bravo tried to defend the insertions made by members of the House by ascribing motives to Lacson’s long-standing advocacy against the pork barrel system.
Lacson noted Bravo even lied in accusing him of having so-called secret amendments when Lacson already made public his institutional amendments to the budget.
He added Bravo was also lying when he claimed Lacson referred to amendments by the Senate as institutional amendments and those by the House as pork.
“If he intended to be truthful about his statements, he should not have skipped my revelation about the P23 billion insertions made by a number of senators on the Department of Public Works and Highways’ budget alone,” Lacson said.
“What I cannot understand is why Bravo would be conveniently selective in his recollection of facts. I hope he would be truthful and not resort to lying,” he added.
On the other hand, Castro had similarly dared Lacson to explain the institutional amendments he made in the budget when Lacson had already done so.
Lacson said he already made public all his amendments to the 2019 budget – all of them institutional – for the sake of transparency.
His institutional amendments, which seek to benefit sectors including education, the environment and national security, are based on need, planning and vetting, he said.
In contrast, he said individual amendments such as flood control projects and various structures were based on lawmakers’ “intervention” and, in most cases, had no consultations with the implementing agencies concerned.
Such individual amendments can be considered pork barrel, based on the 2013 ruling of the Supreme Court that covers whimsical and arbitrary projects, he said.
“Are they trying to get back at me because they are affected by my efforts to excise pork from the national budget?” Lacson said.
“The national budget is the lifeblood of our country. If we allow pork to ruin the budget, we taxpayers will suffer,” he added.
Lacson expanded to all fellow lawmakers his challenge of making public their amendments to the budget bill.
“The challenge applies to all who introduced amendments, individual or institutional. Let them make public their amendments, so the public can judge if it’s pork. That is much better than resorting to lies and cover-up,” he said.