P20-B slashed by Velasco from pension fund went to ‘pork’, not COVID-19 vaccines — Defensor

Published March 2, 2021, 4:47 PM

by Ben Rosario

Anakalusugan Partylist Rep. Michael T. Defensor on Tuesday disclosed that not a single centavo from the P20 billion taken away from the budget for the pension fund of retired personnel of uniformed went to the procurement of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccines.

Anakalusugan Party-List Rep. Mike Defensor

Instead, Defensor said portions of the slashed funding went to pork barrel funds, apparently for lawmakers.

Defensor  aired these claims as he accused ACT-CIS Partylist Rep. Eric Go Yap,   chairman of the House Committee on Appropriations,  of lying before their Lower House colleagues for claiming that the P20 billion slashed from the military and police retirees’ pension fund went to the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) fund.

Defensor said Yap’s claim is simply “not true”  The former made this claim a day after the two solons debated on the floor in connection with Defensor’s allegations about the slashed funding.

“The claim of appropriations committee chairman Rep. Eric Yap that P20 billion in military and police retirees’ pension money was diverted to Covid-19 vaccine procurement is not true,” said Defensor.

In a privilege speech on Monday, Defensor, former chairman of the House Committee on Public Accounts, accused Speaker Lord Allan Velasco of denying retired personnel of uniformed services at least P20 billion from their pension fund to boost congressional allocations for infrastructure projects.

Yap quickly rose to defend Velasco, saying that Defensor was mistaken about his accusations.  Yap said it was he who decided to realign the fund to finance the procurement of COVID 19 vaccine.

Defensor’s revelation opened a can of worms in the Lower House as Yap accused the administration of former Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano of slashing P70 billion in proposed budgetary allocation for the same pension fund when the 2020 GAA was passed.

Yap also blamed Davao City Rep. Isidro Ungab, his predecessor as appropriations chief, for the re-aligned pension fund.

Ungab swiftly belied Yap’s claim, saying that what the Cayetano speakership re-aligned was P209 billion and not P70 billion.  He also decried Yap’s accusations, saying that the re-alignment was decided by Cayetano and then Deputy Speaker LRay Villafuerte behind his back.

In his press statement, Defensor said Yap was wrong in claiming that the P20-billion in the 2021 budget was re-aligned for vaccine procurement.

 “To set the record straight, the vaccine procurement fund approved by Congress, as recommended by the bicameral conference committee (bicam) and carried in the 2021 budget, was P2.5 billion, which is good for just a few thousand doses and which was the amount recommended by the executive branch at the beginning of the pandemic,” Defensor stressed.

“That is the amount that is sure of funding, as it is part of the “programmed” portion of the national budget,” he pointed out.

According to Defensor an additional P172 billion was allocated by Congress but placed it in the ‘unprogrammed part of the outlay.”  This means that the budget will be made available only if there are excess revenues.

Instead of relying on excess revenue collection, the Duterte administration decided to resort to “borrowing to finance the COVID-19 response measure”.

“Through the bicam, Congress juggled at least P182 billion in appropriations recommended by President Duterte in his version of the budget. None of that, not even a centavo or peso, was added by the two chambers to the Palace-recommended P2.5-billion vaccine procurement fund,” said Defensor. He added: “The huge amount of realignments, including the P20 billion for military and police retirees, went to “pork” and other things, but not vaccine.”