By Hannah Torregoza and Mario Casayuran
The bicameral conference committee has approved the report on the proposed ₱4.1-trillion national budget for 2020.
The members of the joint panel signed and adopted the report during a meeting held at the Manila Polo Club in Makati City on Wednesday morning.
The report will be presented to the Senate and House of Representatives for ratification. After it is ratified, the bicam report would be sent to President Duterte for his approval and signature.
Sen. Panfilo Lacson did not attend the signing, saying he learned after their Tuesday plenary session that the questionable “lump sum” appropriations were inserted in the bicameral conference committee report.
“Pork is here to stay. I hope the President will again exercise his political will in vetoing line items that will obviously waste people’s tax money,” Lacson said.
Lacson said he is leaving to President Duterte whether or not to veto tens of billions of pesos worth of lawmakers’ pork barrel projects described as “lumps sum” appropriations inserted in the last minute in the bicameral conference committee report.
Sen. Juan Edgardo “Sonny” Angara, chair of the Senate finance committee, had earlier said Congress is on track in passing next year’s budget as lawmakers are committed to prevent a reenacted budget.
This year, the government operated for three months under a re-enacted budget after the Senate denounced the insertion of more than ₱90 billion worth of pork barrel by the Lower House in its budget version.
The Lower House leadership refused to delete its late pork barrel insertion in the 2019 national budget. However, with the insistence of the Senate, led by Senate President Vicente C. Sotto III, that the pork barrel inserted by the Lower House was unconstitutional, President Duterte vetoed that provision.
“It is revolting to note that legislators keep on dipping their dirty fingers on our national budget in spite of pending cases involving the same issue,” Lacson said.
Lacson said his office received from the House of Representatives, through the Senate Legislative Budget Research and Monitoring Office (LBRMO), one USB drive containing two files, the “Source” File and the “List” File.
“Our preliminary scrutiny of the last-minute insertions made by the House would indicate that the “Source File” contained the list of 1,253 budget items worth ₱83.219 billion that was apparently used as the congressmen’s ‘source’ of their ‘list’ of 742 projects worth ₱16.345 billion that were inserted in the bicameral report that was signed by both panels this morning (December 11),” Lacson pointed out.
“Since there is no preliminary explanation from the House regarding the two files, we cannot ascertain if indeed only ₱16.345 billion or the bigger amount of ₱83.219 billion was inserted at the last minute prior to the bicameral signing,” Lacson said.
Lacson, chairman of the Senate Committee on Accounts, stressed that what is clear is that there are still lump sums and vaguely described projects that are now part of the bicameral conference committee report.
The top seven provinces that were listed as recipients of the pork barrel funds include Albay, ₱670 million; Cavite, ₱580 million; Sorsogon, ₱570 million; Batangas, ₱502 million; Bulacan, ₱440 million; Pangasinan, ₱420 million; Cebu, ₱410 million, among others.
“Also, 117 flood control projects worth ₱3.179 billion dominate the insertions, with eight projects uniformly budgeted at P60 million each,” Lacson said.
Lacson rued that there were more corruption-driven insertions in the files sent to him that he has not mentioned.
“Thus, we will continue to diligently scrutinize it and inform the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) and the Office of the President (OP), as I have high hopes that President Rodrigo Duterte will again display his aversion to corruption,” he said.