By Ben Rosario
Unless they can explain to their Congress counterparts where the P190 billion in budgetary insertions will go, each of the 22 senators will be forced to justify to the public where their respective P8 billion share from the P3.757 trillion national budget will be spent.
House Majority Leader and Capiz Rep. Fredenil Castro pictured such a scenario in an apparent desperation over the Senate’s continued failure to present to the bicameral conference committee on the national budget a detailed listing of the P190 billion that senators have re-aligned in the Senate version of the 2019 General Appropriations Act (GAA).
In a news conference in Quezon City, Castro said the House leadership remained optimistic that re-enactment of the budget will be avoided although Congress is left with practically only two days to pass the proposed GAA.
A special session for the purpose of approving the 2019 national budget has also been discarded as a possibility in view of the forthcoming election campaign period.
Castro explained that until the Senate contingent in the bicameral conference panel is able to present a full itemization of the P190 billion, the amount can be interpreted by the public as the total cost of the individual allocation that will finance each senator’s infrastructure and other projects.
Each senator’s supposed allocation of P200 million, will be considered to have ballooned to “over P7 billion” in case they cannot present to the bicameral panel particulars of the P189.2-billion re-aligned funds, said Castro.
Castro said the House contingent to the bicameral panel led by Camarines Sur Rep. Rolando Andaya Jr. will remain faithful to the House position of avoiding a re-enactment of the 2018 budget.
However, he noted that the Lower House’s intention is being made difficult by Senate’s failure to present to the bicameral panel an itemized listing of where the P189.2 billion will be spent.
Castro said that while Andaya’s team is trying its best to avoid a re-enactment of the budget, it is also standing solidly behind the
“spirit of accountability and transparency” in finalizing the national budget bill.
“Nadiskubre po ng mga kasapi ng Mababang Kapulungan sa bicameral conference committee na itong kaibigan na si Sen. (Panfilo) Lacson ay may ipinasok na halagang P50 billion para sa kanyang pangangailanan na ayon sa kanya ay hindi pork barrel, kundi ito ay institutional amendments (The Lower House members in the bicameral conference committee discovered that our friend, Sen. Lacson inserted P50 billion for his needs which he claimed to be institutional amendments and not pork barrel), ” Castro noted.
P4 B for AFP Brigade
The P50 billion alleged insertion by Lacson was revealed during a bicameral panel deliberation by Senator Loren Legarda, chairperson of the House Committee on Finance.
A critic of the pork barrel funds, Lacson assailed Lower House leaders, particularly former president now Speaker Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, whom he had accused of cornering over P2 billion in budgetary allocation for her congressional district.
However, during last Monday’s bicameral deliberation, Lacson only confirmed that he was behind the re-alignment of P4 billion for the creation of a new Armed Forces brigade.
Castro called on Lacson to submit an itemized list of expenditure for the remaining P46 billion which he allegedly re-aligned.
“Hanggang ngayon, hindi naipapaliwanag ng mga senators kung saan gagamitin ito at hanggang ngayon ay hindi pa po sila nagbibigay ng itemized allocation kung anong gagawin dito sa P190-billion (Up until now, the senators have not yet explained where they will use it and until now they have not submitted the itemized allocation for the P190 billion),” the House official said.
He pointed out that the Lower House, which had been the butt of Lacson’s criticisms, had been very candid about the proposed budget re-alignment of each congressman because each item is reflected in the proposed national expenditure program.