SENATE President Pro Tempore Franklin Drilon admitted that he was among the senators who listed pet projects for funding under the 2017 national budget but stressed the list was subject to the approval of President Rodrigo Duterte.
“I submitted. I’m not ashamed of it. I submitted. It’s up to the President to review it,” Drilon told journalists when asked if he was among the senators who asked for funds for their pet projects.
But the senator insisted that the request for pork barrel funds was allowed since it was made before the enactment of the budget and complied with the Supreme Court’s proscription against “post-enactment” intervention.
“That’s the basic difference between the system before and the system now. During the [Priority Development Assistance Fund] time, the President has no choice but to implement the projects. Today, that is not so,” Drilon said.
But Drilon denied the claim of Senator Panfilo Lacson that senators were asked to submit up to P300 million worth of projects for inclusion in this year’s P3.35-trillion national budget.
“There’s no such ceiling. Yes, we admit that the leadership of the Senate, the [chairperson] of the committee [Senator Loren Legarda], asked us what are the projects and who will submit these for the approval of Congress and for the approval of the President,” he added.
But Lacson maintained that the senators were indeed asked to submit projects for pork barrel funding.
“In the matter of the P300 million submissions by senators, I will stand by my assertion. Senators [Vicente] Sotto and [Francis] Pangilinan confirmed that they too were asked to submit but they decided against it,” said Lacson.
He said the two other senators commented quite openly on the P300-million pork barrel allocation per senator after they learned of the P1.5 million allocation for each congressman coming from the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao.
Lacson claimed some congressmen were asked to identify up to P5 billion each and up to P300 million for some senators.
Bt Senate President Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel II said there was nothing wrong with lawmakers identifying projects before its approval because the Supreme Court only prohibits the involvement of legislators in the implementation of projects, and not during the budget process.
“So in this particular case, when a legislator helps in the budget process but it can be implemented after the enactment of the budget law without the legislators’ intervention, then that’s no longer the act declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court,” Pimentel said at the sidelines of the meeting with French senators at Sofitel Hotel in Pasay City.
“So I think we have a basic difference in our description or definition of what constitutes a return to the pork barrel system,” also said Pimentel.
Pimentel also pointed out that the preparation of the budget “is basically an executive function.
“If the Executive wants to involve other people like legislators, who are we to question the inclusive approach of the executive branch?”
“They have their own styles. There’s the bottoms up budgeting, meaning to say the executive wants to involve local government officials, how come the executive should be prevented from involving legislators in the budget process,” said Pimentel, adding that he found nothing wrong with that.