By Mario Casayuran
The Philippine government has an average of about P480 billion in unused appropriations or pork barrel funds every year for the past 15-year period covering the Arroyo and (Benigno ‘’Noynoy’’) Aquino presidencies ending in mid-2016.
Since the pork barrel funds in the 15-year period would amount to P7.2 trillion, Senator Panfilo M. Lacson, an anti-pork barrel advocate, asked why the national government’s proposed 2020 national budget has amounted to P4.1 trillion.
“Kasi hindi ma-implement, kasi hindi alam ng ahensya paano implement, kasi hindi nanggaling sa kanila. Ito ngayon ang pork barrel,’’ Lacson said in a radio interview Saturday. (It could not be implemented because the government agencies did not plan or conceptualize these projects. This is the pork barrel.)
Senate President Vicente C. Sotto III, Lacson, and Senator Juan Edgardo M. Angara, chairman of the Senate finance committee, had agreed to list down the billions of pesos worth of lawmakers’ pork barrel funds for possible veto by President Duterte when the clean copy of the ratified Senate-House of Representatives proposed 2020 P4.1-trillion budget bill is sent to Malacanang.
President Duterte vetoed more than P95 billion worth of pork barrel appropriations for lawmakers, mostly congressmen, in the 2019 General Appropriations Act (GAA or national budget) after the Senate complained of the huge pork barrel funding.
This week, Lacson complained that he learned that the House panel recently sent a Universal Series Bus (USB) to the Senate Legislative Budget Research and Monitoring Office (LBRMO) containing the pork barrel items.
The USB contained a ‘’Source File’’ indicating P83.2 billion worth of 1,253 projects and a ‘’List File’’ indicating P16.345 billion worth of 742 projects.
The USB material was sent after the Senate and Lower House panels have already signed their bicameral conference committee reports which were later ratified separately by the two chambers.
Asked about the Supreme Court ruling on what constitutes a ‘’pork barrel,’’ Lacson said the lawmakers’ insistence in inserting their ‘’pork’’ in the national budget is a’’ blatant defiance.’’
With the approach of the 2020 national and local elections Lacson had intimated that the lawmakers are out to even things out after being denied of their ‘’pork’’ in the 2019 budget.
He said he would cast his dissenting vote on the ratification of the proposed General Appropriations Bill (GAB) on Monday, December 16.
“Sa Monday manifest ko dissenting vote ako dahil sa issue na nilabas ko. Ipapaliwanag ko ang dahilan (at) ipapakita ko sa kanila anong items.”Hopefully ma-convince ko kasamahan ko pork barrel pa rin,’’ he said. (On Monday, I will manifest my dissenting vote on the Senate floor because of the pork barrel issue I had revealed and will show them the specific items, Hopefully, I may be able to convince them that there are pork barrel appropriations in the budget).
Asked if every House member has a share in the P83.2 billion pork barrel, Lacson replied: ‘’Yan ang inaalam pa namin.’’ (We are still looking into it.)
He cited a P50-million asphalt overlay project in Catbalogan City and P70-million asphalt overlay project in North Fairview, Quezon City, both without details.
These two projects fall under the High Tribunal’s ruling of what constitutes pork barrel, he added.
Lawmakers later identify these projects to implementing agencies. Sometimes contractors go to these agencies to tell these agencies that they were selected by the lawmakers as project builders.
They are known to accept or demand some 20 to 25 percent as their commission per project.
Lacson said there are projects that have double appropriations, have the same contract costs or contractors having overlapping projects.
Queried on why ‘’pork’’ is bad, Lacson replied: ‘’Masama ang pork dahil may discretion. Masama ang pork dahil may commission.’’ (It is bad because there is discretion on the selection of projects and who would be the contractor. It is bad because there is commission.’’
“Public knowledge yan, pag may pork barrel na na-allocate ang 1 mambabatas standard yan 20 percent. So halimbawa nailusot ang P10B, alisin mo 20 percent ng P10B, di ba katakot-takot na pera ng bayan yan?’’ he added. (it is public knowledge that a lawmaker’s standard commission is 20 percent. Deduct 20 percent from a theoritical P10 billion pork, the lawmaker’s pocket will bulge with taxpayers’ money.)
He also said that the national budget contains 25 percent consisting of infrastructure projects that go through the regular process of being selected and discussed in the local and regional development centers and later transmitted to implementing agencies, mostly by the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH).
The larger portion of 75 percent is said to be selected or identified by lawmakers.
Lacson recalled a conversation with Senator Aquilino Pimentel III, a former Senate President, agreeing with him that it was contractor who has the say in the implementation of lawmakers’ pork.
“Sabi niya totoo yan kasi noong isang linggo meron siyang bisita naghihingi ng project. Akala niya LG (local government) official so pinapasok niya. Nagulat siya ang pumasok, contractor. Bakit contractor ang nakikiusap? Nakakalungkot isipin ganyan nangyayari sa bayan natin all through these years,’’ he said, quoting Pimentel. (That is true. I had a visitor whom I allowed to enter my office because I thought he was local government official. I was surprised he was a contractor. Why is a contractor the one following up a project? It is a sad commentary of our nation through all these years.