By Ben Rosario
Why are the Senators so afraid of itemizing their P190-billion amendment to the proposed P3.757-trillion national budget?
COOP-NATCCO Party-List Rep. Anthony Bravo had this to say Friday amid the impasse between House of Representatives members and Senators on the budget’s approval at the Bicameral Conference Committee level.
“The senators kept on saying that their amendments were institutional and not individual amendments. If that is so, then why are they so afraid of itemizing their amendments? Dahil ba sa makikita ng publiko yung mga isinali nila o isinaksak nila na bilyung-bilyon piso na amendments, o programa, proyekto ay nakapaloob sa congressional districts?” Bravo, a member of the House contingent on the Bicam, said in a press conference before House media.
(Is it because the public will find out that they inserted billions worth of amendments, programs and projects within the congressional districts?)
“Take note, senators have no congressional districts. Though they may have come from the districts before they came into their position. However there are legislative representatives who are taking care of their districts,” the congressman said.
The P190-billion budget insertion that senators admitted to and dubbed “institutional amendments” during the Bicam meeting Tuesday with their House counterparts remain a lump sum, which based on a 2013 Supreme Court (SC) decision is “pork barrel,” or simply pork.
Pork used to refer to lawmakers’ discretionary funds, and was very prone to corruption. As such, it was outlawed by the SC.
To combat this, solons’ projects have to be itemized or individually specified in the National Expenditure Progam (NEP), which is enacted into the General Appropriations Act (GAA) by Congress (House and Senate).
Bravo somewhat echoed his fellow House members’ sentiments when he declared along with a tinge of sarcasm: “Kung sa House galing ang amendments, ano ho ang tawag ng publiko, including the Senate? Pork ho yan. Kapag galing ho sa Senate ano ang tawag nila? Institutional amendments po iyan.”
(If the amendments come from the House, what do the public and Senate call it? That’s pork. If it comes from the Senate, what do they call it? Those are institutional amendments.)
The House had received flak–specifically from Senator Panfilo Lacson–for its supposed budget insertion of P51 billion in the stalled budget.
“During the Bicameral session, Senator Lacson repeatedly told congressmen that he respects the solons’ desire to bring projects to their congressional districts and nobody from the conferees coming from the Senate said otherwise. They were in unison…they were in agreement that it wasn’t pork,” Bravo said.
He then pointed to Lacson’s latest statement describing the budget as pork-laden.
“Now we are confused. We read in the newspaper about Senator Lacson’s sudden turnaround. Nagbago ho ang kanyang posisyon. Dahil ba sa na-open natin or nabuksan yung mga sinasabi insertion na galing sa kabila? (His position changed. Is it because we’ve opened the insertions coming from the other side?)”
Recalling Tuesday’s Bicam meeting, Bravo said the senators refused to submit their list of individual amendments to the budget “despite our insistence.”
“When pressed for the list of individual amendments, the senators cancelled the scheduled Bicam session. As if on cue, Senate President Tito Sotto threatened to pull out the Bicam and made public his push for a reenacted budget.
“The House conferees did not budge, with [Appropriations Committee Chairman Rolando] Andaya [Jr.] saying that the House does not agree on a reenacted budget. We want a new budget for 2019,” the Minority Bloc congressman said.
Bravo talked about the dangers of having a reenacted budget this year. “It will affect Build, Build, Build and it surely pull down the economic situation.”
Asked what would happen if the Senate stands pat on its position, he said: “We cannot proceed if they won’t agree [to a new budget].”