Senator Panfilo M. Lacson on Tuesday urged the public, especially taxpayers, to help him expose the insertions of pork barrel in the P4.1-trillion budget for 2020.
He branded as “dubious insertions and useless appropriations” the insertions being made by some Congress members.
“Any technical support from the outside will certainly help in our scrutiny of the 2020 budget books,” said Lacson, who claimed he is preparing to engage in yet another protracted game of “hide-and-seek” against pork.
Lacson also sought support from the people in watching the budget process and to remove the pork that caused the delay in the passage of the 2019 budget.
“This is taxpayers’ money we are talking about. We should not allow a greedy few to lay their grubby hands on it, to put it mildly,” he said.
“Budget deliberation starts this week in the 18th Congress. It is time to play another protracted game of ‘hide-and-seek’: they hide, we seek,” Lacson said.
He noted that pork reared its ugly head anew in the 2019 budget, causing a long delay in the passage of the spending bill.
At the time, Lacson bared abuses and indiscretions in both houses of Congress, with the House of Representatives’ leadership even going beyond the mandate of the law by introducing realignments even after the budget had been ratified—a violation, he said, of the 1987 Constitution.
While President Rodrigo Duterte signed the 2019 budget bill on April 15, he vetoed P93.5 billion in questionable items, including the post-realignment manipulations questioned by Lacson and Senate leaders.
In July, Lacson filed Senate Bill 24, seeking to institutionalize the direct participation of taxpayers in the budget process.
Malacañang on Tuesday defended the proposed P1.5-billion budget hike of the Office of the President, saying the increase is necessary to provide “efficient, meaningful and effective” public service.
The OP will need financial support given the strong resolve of President Duterte to pursue programs and policies that “will finally bring genuine change to the nation,” Presidential Spokesman Salvador Panelo said.
In its proposed 2020 budget, Duterte’s office is asking for P8.2-billion funds for next year. This was P1.5 billion higher than the OP’s budget for 2019.
The last budget of Duterte’s predecessor, former President Benigno Aquino III, was P2.8 billion.
For 2019, Duterte’s office has a budget of P6.7 billion while it had P6.3 billion in 2018.
More than P6 billion will be allocated for maintenance and other operating expenses, P4.5 billion of which will be used for confidential and intelligence expenses.
Meanwhile, P1.1 billion is supposed to be spent for personnel services and P427 million for capital outlay.
Funds for salaries in the President’s office will go up from P974.7 million to P1.12 billion.
The other large operating expenses of the President’s office are P670.7 million for travel, P418.5 million for representation, P239.6 million for supplies and materials, P221.6 million for repairs and maintenance, and P144 million for utilities.
The President, through acting Budget Secretary Wendel Avisado, submitted the proposed 2020 budget to Congress.
Last week, House appropriations committee began scrutinizing the proposed spending program for next year.
Panelo said the OP steps in to provide funds for departments and agencies that run out of money.
The additional amount is also necessary to secure the country from threats coming from sources within and outside the country.
Public Works and Highways Secretary Mark Villar said there is no pork in his department’s proposed budget of P534.3 billion because congressional allocations have already been itemized.
The Supreme Court declared pork unconstitutional and banned its inclusion in the budget in 2013.
Villar said President Duterte, who has taken a strong anti-corruption line, “will not tolerate” lump sum allocations of pork.
A lawmaker from the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, meanwhile, called for the immediate start of construction of an integrated railway system in the country’s second largest island.
Deputy Speaker and Basilan Rep. Mujiv Hataman said the Department of Transportation’s budget increased from P54.23 billion this year to P133.43 billion next year, making it the “biggest winner” in next year’s government expenditures.
However, the department “must submit ironclad guarantees that it can spend this amount on time,” Hataman said.
“Appropriating funds is different from spending it. And I hope that Transportation Secretary [Arturo] Tugade has found the formula in the fast use of appropriations because many people are depending on the speedy completion of the projects of his department,” Hataman added.
He said more than P106.7 billion of the DOTr appropriation will go to railway projects to ease traffic congestion and alleviate the plight of commuters in Metro Manila and some parts of Luzon and Mindanao.
Of the billions allocated to the DOTr, however, Hataman lamented that only P96.1 million was allotted for railway projects in Mindanao.
“The department’s budget was increased by almost 150 percent but only P96.1 million was allotted for the Mindanao Railway Project. I hope this budget will be increased because we also need mass transportation infrastructure for our constituents.”
Of the P106.7 billion budget for railway projects, P84.7 billion will go to the North-South Commuter Railway System; P9.8 billion for the Metro Manila Subway Project Phase I; P6.1 billion for the Subsidy for Mass Transport (MRT3); P5.1 billion for the Rehabilitation of MRT Line 3; P877 million for the PNR South Long Haul Project; P96.1 million for the Mindanao Railway Project; and P74 million for the LRT Line 1 Cavite Extension Project.
Appropriations of the Transportation department was P83.2 billion, but only P30.1 billion was disbursed by the end of that year, Hataman said.