"Now these lawmakers must face the consequences."
Sooner or later, it was bound to happen. And early this week, finally it did. The two opposing camps in Congress burned each other – and themselves.
It started with a privilege speech delivered by Anakalusugan Partylist Rep. Michael Defensor exposing maneuverings in the passage of national budget bills allegedly made under the watch of Speaker Lord Allan Velasco.
Perhaps knowing Defensor as someone who, always ready to back up anything with hard proof, ACT-CIS Partylist Rep. Eric Go Yap, chairman of the House Committee on Appropriations, was left with no choice – but without passing the chance to point a finger at the team of former Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano, whom he alleged to have committed a bigger “crime” than they did.
Surprisingly, not only did former Appropriations chair, Davao Rep. Isidro Ungab, acknowledge they realigned the budget intended for other purposes as alleged by Yap. He even admitted it was an even higher figure than what the ACT-CIS representative claims.
In his speech, Defensor alleged Velasco secretly slashed P20-billion from the 2021 budget for gratuity and pension fund of personnel of uniformed services.
Defensor said that under Velasco’s leadership, the proposed allocation for the gratuity and pension fund for retired military and police personnel has been reduced by P20 billion, thus, putting in danger the small amount they receive as they face the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.
But instead of defending the Speaker, Yap pointed at Cayetano and his team whom he accused of doing much worse when the former speaker secretly cut by P70 billion the 2020 allocation for the same gratuity and pension fund, further accusing Ungab of having a hand in Cayetano’s action.
Ungab, who was then attending the session via Zoom, objected, denying any role in the P70-billion cut, pointing to Cayetano and Camarines Sur Rep. LRay Villafuerte as the real culprits, adding that what was slashed by the two former leaders was not P70 billion but actually P209 billion.
Being a reserve military man, Ungab said he could not, in conscience, do what Yap had accused him of doing. He said it was the Cayetano-Villafuerte partnership that made decisions with regard to the proposed 2020 General Appropriations Act.
While admitting he was fully aware that P209 billion was re-aligned, Ungab said he absolutely had no participation when Cayetano and Villafuerte mangled what had already been agreed upon in the Lower House.
Ungab detailed the realigned funds as follows: P70 billion from the pension fund; P1.3 billion from the Department of Environment and Natural Resources; P71 billion from the Department of Public Works and Highways; P52 billion from the Department of Transportation; P2 billion from the Department of Education; P4 billion from the bases conversion allocation and P4 billion from the National Disaster and Risk Reduction Management Council.
He however stopped short of saying where Cayetano and Villafuerte re-aligned the budget cuts, although he vowed to reveal them next week in a privilege speech.
Yap, on the other hand, was not about to drag Velasco along with him to his grave.
According to Yap, the decision to cut the said allocation was his only and that he alone should be blamed for it. The Speaker was not aware of his actions.
Oh, come on! Does Yap want us to believe he is on his own, as chair of the most powerful committee in the Lower House, and the Speaker has no idea about what he is doing? If so, then Velasco, should not only immediately fire him as chair of the appropriations committee. He should also submit him to the ethics committee and give him the highest penalty possible – expulsion from Congress.
But I don’t believe that’s the case. From my interviews with some lawmakers, they have stated one thing and one thing only: It would be impossible for the Speaker not to be aware of what his appropriations chair is doing.
The Speaker may keep other members or leaders of the House out of the loop in some of his actions, but it would be never the other way around.
Anyway, the last time I heard is that Yap is conducting another committee hearing to find ways to reinstate the P20 billion they took away from the pension fund. But I don’t think that would be enough to appease the members of Congress that he and his accomplice or accomplices, whoever they may be, have insulted with their action.
They have burned themselves, now, they should face the consequences.