By Argyll Geducos
The proposed P3.575-trillion national budget for 2019, which was expected to be ratified Friday, will be free of any pork barrel allocations or illegal insertions.
Cabinet Secretary Karlo Nograles gave the assurance after Congress voted to ratify the 2019 General Appropriations Act Friday following long discussions about pork barrel allegations and insertions in the budget.
In his press briefing in Malacañang, Nograles said the Executive Branch will be combing through the national budget once it is transmitted to President Duterte’s office to make sure that everything there will be legal.
“We will go through each and every page of the budget. We will go through each and every item and certainly, the President has the power to exercise his line-item veto as he has previously done in past budgets. Obviously, if this is anything irregular there, the President will know what to do,” he said.
“We want this budget clean and we want this budget implemented so that we all know and understand how important a budget is to boosting our economic growth and translating that to programs, activities, and projects that will redound to the benefit of our citizens,” he added.
According to the former legislator, the Executive cannot risk the budget getting implemented any later because of legal matters.
“Bubusisiin nila (President Duterte and the Budget Department will scrutinize it) to make sure that everything is legal because the last thing we need is ma-stall na naman yung budget because nagkaroon ng (for the budget to get stalled again because of some) legal action somewhere,” Nograles said.
“So we’re also very watchful. Ayaw naman namin mangyari yun (We do not want that to happen),” he added.
Diokno denies bribery raps
Budget Secretary Benjamin E. Diokno denied that he attempted to bribe lawmakers to silence them over the alleged irregularities in the proposed 2019 General Appropriations Act (GAA).
“Absolutely false,” Diokno said a mobile phone message sent to reporters by the Department of Budget and Management’s (DBM) media relations office. “It is again one of his wild and baseless accusations.”
“If I were trying to silence the [House Appropriations] Committee, why would I even bother to submit to them the 2017 and 2018 savings for their review,” Diokno further explained.
On Friday, Diokno decided not to comply with the House Appropriations Committee subpoena for him to attend the probe over the national budget’s alleged irregularities.
Diokno explained he cannot appear before the committee hearing due to its violations of the House rules governing inquiries in aid of legislation.
According to Diokno, his office received the subpoena signed by House Speaker Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo on Thursday at around 11 a.m. or less than a day before the hearing scheduled Friday at 10 a.m.
Diokno invoked House rules, citing Section 8 (3) of the Rules of Procedure Governing Inquiries in Aid of Legislation of the House of Representatives, which provides:
“Subpoena shall be served to a witness at least three (3) days before a scheduled hearing in order to give the witness every opportunity to prepare for the hearing and to employ counsel, should the witness desire.”
DPWH defends ‘insertion’
But Diokno’s presence at the hearing may not be required at all if the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH), pictured by lawmakers as the “victim” in the P75-billion insertion into the department’s budget, were to be believed.
DPWH Undersecretary Catalina Cabral told members of the House Committee on Appropriations that there is nothing wrong with the inclusion by the DBM of an additional P75 billion infrastructure allocation to the DPWH budget even without prior knowledge of its officials.
Grilled by congressmen, Cabral said the alleged “insertion” made by DBM in the 2019 DPWH allocation is part of a “normal budget process.”
Cabral assured lawmakers that details of the P75 billion that was added to the P480-billion DPWH budget were later sent to regional offices for proper vetting.
She explained that DPWH Secretary Mark Villar was aware of the P75 billion but only after the proposed 2019 National Expenditure Program (NEP) was submitted to Congress.
“I recall the Secretary saying we consider it a budgetary adjustment and therefore DBM has the prerogative to add or reduce. We took the NEP as it is,” the DPWH official said. (With reports from Chino S. Leyco and Ben R. Rosario)