By Marlon Ramos, February 11 2019; Philippine Daily Inquirer
Image Credit to Manila Bulletin
No more budget “insertions” written on table napkins.
Still reeling from last week’s ratification of what he described as “pork-ridden, cholesterol-rich” P3.8-trillion spending bill, Sen. Panfilo Lacson on Sunday decried the reinstatement in the final version of the national budget of discretionary funds that the legislators had previously agreed to delete.
Lacson, who had railed against the existence of pork in President Rodrigo Duterte’s budget for 2019, also vowed to end the “small group” meetings of the Senate-House conference committee in a bid to make the budget deliberations more transparent.
“I will also ask that all amendments … be put henceforth in writing and officially submitted to the LBRMO (Legislative Budget Research and Monitoring Office) and the [Senate] finance committee chair,” the senator said in a text message to the Inquirer.
“No more whispered, written on napkins or scratch paper [budget amendments],” he stressed.
Lacson lamented that the P3-billion allotment for the “Tulong Dunong” program was retained in the unified budget committee report despite the fact that billions of pesos had already been earmarked for free college education in the budget of the Commission on Higher Education.
“What’s revolting are matters taken up and agreed upon on the [Senate] floor during the period of interpellations, but are not made part of the bicameral report,” he said.
“The Tulong Dunong program … is duplicitous, not to mention reeking of pork, which is made clear under the 2013 Supreme Court ruling,” he stressed.
The senator said another pork item was the P9 billion for “other financial assistance to LGUs” (local government units), which the senators had agreed to take out from the spending measure.
Said Lacson: “After we agreed on the floor to delete the same, this was not followed even in the Senate version.”
Documents not available
Up to now, he said lawmakers had yet to see the final budget documents that representatives of the Senate and the House of Representatives signed and ratified by both chambers of Congress on Friday.
Like what Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon had pointed out, Lacson said he had repeatedly asked Sen. Loren Legarda, chair of the Senate finance committee, to furnish them a copy of the committee report “before, during and after” the Senate-House conference committee meetings.
He said it was only Legarda and her counterpart in the House, Camarines Sur Rep. Rolando Andaya Jr., who had seen the signed and ratified committee report.
“It’s the same reason why I did not attend the signing ceremony last Friday in Camp Aguinaldo,” the senator said.
Asked if he would ask the Senate leadership to end the practice of “small group” bicameral meetings in future budget discussions, he said: “You bet.”
Wrong, malevolent practice
Under such arrangement, Lacson said only the heads of the Senate and House contingents were authorized to discuss items that should be included in the government’s expenditure program.
“That is one very wrong, even malevolent, practice of the bicameral conference committee meetings,” he said.