By Vanne Elaine Terrazola
Senate President Vicente Sotto III on Friday dismissed as “silly” the new allegation that senators would receive the greater share in the supposed “pork” insertions in the P3.757-trillion 2019 budget.
Sotto had denied knowledge over the claims made by House appropriations committee chair and Camarines Sur Representative Rolando Andaya who, in confirming the retention of P75 billion in so-called “pork barrel” allocations in the final version of the General Appropriations Bill (GAB), was reported to have said that members of the Upper Chamber would each receive P3 billion in government projects, while the 292 congressmen would only divide P5 billion among themselves.
The Senate chief maintained that the senators only pushed for institutional amendments and that the allocations would go to agencies that requested the funds.
“I don’t know what he (Andaya) is talking about. What I know is that senators have institutional amendments that are requests of departments or restorations [of slashed budgets] unlike the HOR (House of Representatives) amendments that are mostly individual amendments,” Sotto said in a text message Friday.
“[It has] No basis except perhaps he calls all amendments as pork. It’s silly,” he told the Manila Bulletin.
If he finds Andaya’s claim true, Sotto said he would recommend to President Duterte to stick to the National Expenditure Program or veto all the amendments of both the Senate and the House.
“P3 billion per senator as pork is a slur against the Senate,” Sotto said.
Like Sotto, Senator Leila de Lima also raised eyebrows on Andaya’s claim.
“What is Rep. Andaya talking about? What P3 billion, in projects, for each Senator? Sorry, but I’m completely clueless!” the detained senator said in her dispatch Friday.
De Lima then challenged Andaya to identify the lawmakers who would benefit from the “pork barrel” insertions.
“Pwede ba, paki-identify nyo na lang kung sino-sinong mga mambabatas ang talagang may mga pork barrel at budget insertions,” she said.
Members of congressional bicameral conference committee signed on Friday afternoon the report reconciling the two chambers’ versions of the GAB.
After this, the Senate and House will then ratify the final GAB before forwarding it to the Palace for Duterte’s signature.
Of the 10-member Senate contingent in the bicam panel, only Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon dissented from the final GAB version.
Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph Recto, Majority Leader Juan Miguel Zubiri, Finance Committee chair Loren Legarda, and Sens. Sonny Angara, Nancy Binay, JV Ejercito, and Cynthia Villar, on the other hand, signed in approval of the report on this year’s national budget.
Sen. Panfilo Lacson, meanwhile, did not attend the bicam meeting. He earlier expressed opposition on the ratification of the final GAB due to the retention of the P160-million “pork” allocation for each congressman, and some P23 billion for senators.
Lacson is expected to deliver a privilege speech in the Senate’s 4 p.m. session about the 2019 spending bill.
Sen. Bam Aquino was also not present in the bicam meet.