Bicam OKs P4.1-trillion national budget

By Hannah Torregoza and Mario Casayuran 

The bicameral conference committee has approved the report on the pro­posed ₱4.1-trillion national budget for 2020.

House of the Representatives (ALVIN KASIBAN / MANILA BULLETIN / FILE PHOTO) House of the Representatives (ALVIN KASIBAN / MANILA BULLETIN / FILE PHOTO)

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.

READ MORE: Lacson leaves it to Duterte whether to veto ‘lump sum’ insertions or not

“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.

READ MORE: Senate will just inform Duterte of House insertions in 2020 national budget – Sotto

“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.