By Mario Casayuran
The Senate is drafting a special provision to be inserted in the proposed 2019 General Appropriations Act (GAA or national budget) allowing the implementation of billions of pesos worth of public works projects during elections which is currently banned under the Omnibus Election Code.
In a radio interview, Senate President Vicente C. Sotto III said Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph G. Recto is drafting the wording of the special provision to be debated by the Senate when it reopens its doors for the resumption of plenary session from a month-long Christmas break on the proposed 2019 P3.757-trillion national budget.
The proposed special provision is aimed at amending the Omnibus Election Code that bans the implementation of public works projects during elections.
It such provision would be passed, it allows President Duterte’s multibillion-peso ‘’Build Build Build’’ infrastructure projects to be implemented during the forthcoming May 2019 mid-term elections, Sotto said.
Also to be exempted from the ban would be billions of pesos worth of countryside projects of members of Congress which is derisively tagged as ‘’pork barrel’’ allocations.
Congress leaders conceded that implementation of public works projects of lawmakers would boost the chances of reelectionists for seats in the Senate and House of Representatives.
During s recent Senate floor debate, Senator Loren Legarda, chairwoman of the Senate finance committee, said she favors the lifting of the public works election ban so that economic activity throughout the archipelago would not be derailed during elections.
Both legislative chambers went on a month-long Christmas break starting last Friday without being able to pass the proposed national budget that supposedly contained P70 billion, not P50 billion, ‘’pork barrel’’ allocations for lawmakers.
This as Senator Panfilo M. Lacson revealed that a congressman has told him that a staffer of a senator had requested him to allow the unnamed senator’s P200 million pork barrel allocations parked in his legislative district but that the senator should choose his contractor.
He did not give added details.
This is now a guessing game, Sotto said.
Sotto and Senate Minority Leader Franklin M. Drilon said Lacson should identify the staffer to save other staff members of senators would not be dragged into the controversy.
Lacson said he is happy that his advocacy against the pernicious pork barrel system is gaining ground in the House of Representatives and is reaching the consciousness of the people.
Sotto said that he is happy that President Duterte did not call Congress to a special session to tackle national budget.
He said Congress could not possibly pass the budget in five days before Christmas what with interpellations of budgets of various departments and the period of amendments, a ‘’bloody’’ bicameral conference committee fight over ‘’pork barrel,’’ ratification of a committee report and a week-long printing of the voluminous budget.