Senators’ budget insertions bared

January 28, 2019
Rolando Andaya Jr.

Andaya reveals Senate members’ own budget insertions billions bigger than congressmen’s.

The chairman of the House Committee on Appropriations yesterday revealed that senators made almost P190-billion “insertions” compared to the P51 billion by the 293-strong House of Representatives in the proposed 2019 P3.757-trillion national budget.

“The Senate version is seeking an amendment or a total net increase of around P190 billion and the House is requesting P51 billion,” Camarines Sur Rep. Rolando “Nonoy” Andaya, Jr., the panel chairman, told the bicameral conference committee which was opened to media yesterday at the Manila Polo Club in Makati City.

A member of the House panel who refused to be identified said it was the first time he heard of a bicameral conference committee meeting opened to media coverage.

“First time na magkaroon ng live media coverage, nakita na mas malaki talaga ang insertions ng mga senador sa mga kongresista,” the lawmaker said.

Responding quickly, Sen. Loren Legarda, the chairperson of the Senate Committee on Finance, confirmed Andaya’s statement and named Sen. Panfilo “Ping” Lacson, the panel vice chairman, as the one who introduced almost P50-billion “institutional amendments” out of the P189.2 billion that the Senate inserted in their version.

“We supposed to include the institutional amendments of Sen. Lacson. Almost P50 billion of that (P189.2-billion) are amendments of the vice chair (Lacson). I accepted most of his amendments,” said Legarda, adding that P68 billion out of the P189.2 billion insertions are unprogrammed funds or being requested by various agencies like the Office of the President (OP), Office of the Vice President (OVP), Congress, Departments of Interior and Local Government (DILG), Agrarian Reform (DAR), Agriculture (DA), Health (DoH), and others.

In his defense, Lacson, who consistently berated House members for their alleged huge insertions in the national budget, said his institutional amendments should not be considered as individual amendments because these were requested by various agencies.

“An example of institutional amendments that I introduced and adopted by the Senate is the P4 billion for the activation of an infantry division. This was requested by the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and PNP (Philippine National Police,” Lacson told the panel.

Lacson, a staunch critic of pork barrel, was moved Monday by House members’ bid to bring projects to their congressional districts and proposed having a “pie” that they can divide.

“Why don’t we agree on a pie? We also acknowledge that you congressmen have legislative districts to attend to. Let’s have a certain figure to work on. Bahala na kayo magbakbakan diyan. Say one-thirds or two-thirds pero huwag naman unlimited,” said Lacson.

Legarda also admitted introducing an institutional amendment in the amount of almost P800 million for the celebration of World Teachers’ Day this October.

But she appealed that her action to allocate funds should not be considered as an act of appropriating pork barrel.

“Don’t consider that as pork. There is institutional agency requesting (it). It has been vetted by the regional development council, (there’s) a request from barangay, local government units, and province. That can’t be considered (pork barrel),” said Legarda in defending her action.

But Andaya maintained that institutional amendments are still “insertions” which Lacson branded earlier as pork barrel, especially if these are requested by congressmen.

“Dagdag pa rin iyun, insertion pa rin iyun. Let’s be fair here and observe transparency,” said Andaya who pressed the bicameral conference committee to make the hearing open to media coverage to ensure transparency under the Arroyo leadership. Earlier, Andaya warned the Senate against putting the House of Representatives in a bad light.

“Every budget season, the House of Representatives has always been a favorite whipping boy of those obsessed with finding fault on the projects funded by the General Appropriations Act,” he said.

“I say enough is enough. This time, the deliberations of the bicameral conference committee on the national budget will be completely different from previous ones. I will push for full transparency in the bicam deliberations,” Andaya vowed.

Sources said that the Senate panel was initially opposed to media coverage, resulting in a one hour delay in the bicameral conference committee hearing which started at eleven in the morning from its original 10 a.m. schedule.

Members of the bicameral conference committee were scheduled last night to meet again in the same venue, hoping to finish the work until tomorrow.