Senators to scrutinize ‘pork barrel’ insertions in proposed 2019 budget

Published November 29, 2018, 9:56 PM

by Roel Tibay

By Vanne Terrazola

Senators are expected to zoom in on the alleged “pork barrel” insertions when they take up the proposed P3.757-trillion national budget for 2019 next week.

Senate Majority Leader Juan Miguel Zubiri said on Thursday that he considers the “pork barrel”controversy as the most contentious issue in the General Appropriations Bill (GAB) for next year.

The Joint Session of the Senate and the House of Representatives on the extension of Martial Law in Mindanao commences in the Plenary of the Batasang Pambansa on December 13, 2017. (ALVIN KASIBAN / MANILA BULLETIN)

Zubiri said some colleagues are curious over the reported P51.7-billion re-aligned “parked pork barrel” fund, which is being blamed for the delay in the approval of the proposed 2019 budget at the House of Representatives.

Senator Panfilo Lacson had claimed that each of congressman received P60-million“pork” under the 2019 GAB. A “blessed few,” he added, got more than P60 million.

Lacson also disclosed that some of his colleagues have proposed amendments to the budget bill to fund their pet projects. But he is not aware of the exact amount allocated to senators.

“How much? I have no idea although I’m sure it is not a uniform P200 million each. I am also sure I have none since I do not avail myself of such kind of amendment or insertion,”Lacson said on Thursday.

Budget Secretary Benjamin Diokno had repeatedly denied the existence of pork in the GAB. On Monday, Diokno will meet anew with senators during their all-member caucus to clarifyconcerns on the alleged pork barrel funds, Zubiri said.

The Senate majority leader said he does not expect a problem with lawmakers making amendments to the budget for specific projects, or institutional insertions, especially if these are already included in the government’s expenditure program.

“Those things are not wrong,”Zubiri, a former congressman, said.

Still, he said, he respects his colleagues about wanting to scrutinize the budget due to pork barrel issues.

Despite this, Zubiriremains hopeful that there won’t be delays in the Senate’s deliberation of the proposed 2019 budget, which they now aim to pass within the next two weeks.

Zubiri admitted this is a “turnaround”from their initial position not to rush the budget debates, following their meeting with Diokno on Wednesday.

He said the Senate will hold 12-hour sessions starting December 4 and extending until Friday.

Zubiri said the Senate finance panel will also talk to their counterpart in the House to start the pre-bicameral conference committee meetings to fast-track threshing out of contentious provisions of the two GAB versions.

He said the bicamexpects to ratify the final version of the GAB by December 13, so that President Duterte can sign it into law before the year ends.