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Senate bars budget insertions

Senators on Monday said they would not allow insertion in the national budget bill that would allow the Commission on Elections to waive safeguards on automated poll equipment, saying such a rider would be unconstitutional.

Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon, reacting to reports of such an insertion, said the Procurement Law cannot be amended by inserting a clause in the General Appropriations Act.

He also said Senate Finance committee chairman Senator Juan Edgardo Angara has said he will not allow such an insertion.

Angara was checking on the reported insertion, but the directive of Senate President Vicente Sotto is clear not to allow it.

Drilon said he did not know if the provision was in the Senate version that was approved.

Senator Panfilo Lacson said the General Appropriations Act can only contain provisions that are consistent with appropriations.

He also said that being a general law, it cannot amend a special law, such as the Automated Election Law.

Meanwhile, the chairman of the House of Representatives' committee on appropriations said the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) is the one that decides on the reallocation of funds for certain congressional districts.

ACT-CIS Party-list Rep. Eric Yap, the panel's chairperson, made the statement in response to the statement of Camarines Sur Rep. Luis Raymund Villafuerte's statement on what he called "undue" cuts in the proposed infrastructure outlays for certain congressional districts under the House-approved version of the proposed 2021 national budget.

Yap said the DPWH may have moved the budget for Villafuerte's district to projects that are expected to be finished by 2022.

"I think DPWH moved it to priority projects, those that will be finished by the end of 2022," Yap said in a television interview. "The bottomline is that it was DPWH that realigned [the funds] and we just adopted the amendments given to us by the department," he added.

Last week, Lacson noted increases in the budgets for allies of Speaker Lord Allan Velasco while cuts in the budget allocations in districts represented by allies of ousted speaker Alan Peter Cayetano.

Villafuerte, a known Cayetano ally, said P386 million was removed from his district's budget.

But Yap said there was nothing unusual about budget cuts in Villafuerte's district.

For instance, Yap said the Benguet province, of which he was installed as caretaker, received a budget increase for some road cuts and road slips which were eroded due to landslides. Yap said he was neither a Cayetano or a Velasco ally.

"I think it's only but proper for DPWH to fix that because there are no roads for us to use in Benguet," he said.

Yap maintained that the House-approved version of the 2021 national government budget was 'pork-free."

Villafuerte on Monday backed a proposal in the Senate for a new fiscal package in 2021 on top of next year’s proposed national budget.

A "Bayanihan 3" would provide for the large scale rehabilitation of provinces and cities devastated by three strong typhoons—Quinta, Rolly and Ulysses—that battered Luzon in November.

"I fully support a Senate proposal to legislate 'Bayanihan 3' for the sole purpose of funneling substantial funds into the large scale rehabilitation of provinces and cities reeling from the disastrous impact of super typhoons Quinta, Rolly and Ulysses," Villafuerte said.

Camarines Sur was one of the provinces hardest hit by all three tropical depressions.

Villafuerte, a former governor, said such special funds for "Bayanihan 3,” as proposed by senators for the typhoon-hit areas, should be spent on building new infrastructure or repairing damaged ones such as roads and bridges; offering livelihood opportunities, especially to

dislocated families and those still staying in evacuation centers; and providing shelter to those whose houses were destroyed or damaged by the typhoons.

In one of the Senate’s plenary sessions on the proposed 2021 GAA, Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph Recto suggested that if the government could push the Bayanihan 1 and Bayanihan 2 laws as a response to the Covid-19 pandemic, it could draw up Bayanihan 3 in answer to the typhoons.

Topics: Commission on Elections , national budget bill , automated poll equipment
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