Lacson hits allotment for lawmakers in 2017 budget: 'Return to PDAF?'
MANILA, Philippines – Senator Panfilo Lacson on Tuesday, August 30, criticized the P80-million allotment for each lawmaker for proposed projects in the 2017 national budget, calling it apparent pork barrel.
"Parang bumabalik tayo sa PDAF (Priority Development Assistance Fund). Bakit mag-a-identify ng project ang mga congressmen? Sila rin mangangasiwa noon, sila nakakaalam saan i-a-allocate ang pondo, kung saang project," Lacson told reporters on the sidelines of the first budget briefing of the Development Budget Coordination Committee before the Senate.
(It seems we're returning to the PDAF. Why are congressmen identifying their pet projects? They are the ones facilitating it, they know the allocation of funds of the projects.)
For Lacson, the P80-million allotment per congressman should be "scrapped" and "reappropriated" to other agencies.
Citing the 2013 Supreme Court ruling that the PDAF is unconstitutional, Lacson said there is a clear conflict of interest with the said policy, as Congress should not "intervene in an exclusively executive function" such as budget preparation.
"Ang sinasabi natin dito kung nagsubmit na sa NEP (National Expenditure Program) ng kanilang mga projects, 'di ba napakaliwanag na conflict of interest because they will involve themselves in the authorization phase of the national budgeting process?" Lacson said.
(What we're saying here is that if they submitted their projects in the NEP, isn't that a clear conflict of interest because they will involve themselves in the authorization phase of the national budgeting process?)
“Paano pa nila kokontrahin 'yung mga sinubmit nilang project? And during the period of amendments, paano pa sila magpaparticipate sa pag-a-amend eh nakapasok na ang kanilang projects? Sa oversight function ng Congress, paano pa magkakaroon ng objectivity eh project nila 'yun?” he added.
(How can they oppose the projects they submitted? And during the period of amendments, how can they participate when their projects are already inserted there? When it comes to the oversight function of Congress, how can they have objectivity when it is their project?)
'Separation of powers'
Lacson, emphasizing his point, cited Section 14, Article 6 of the 1987 Constitution mandating the separation of powers in government.
“I have really serious issue on the P80-million project submission of individual congressman kasi (because) what is delegated (by the Constitution to Congress) cannot be delegated anymore (to individual lawmakers)," he said.
No senator submitted a list of projects, as DBM did not ask the Senate committee on finance for it, Lacson said.
Budget Secretary Benjamin Diokno said there was nothing wrong with the proposed allotment. He said the Supreme Court only prohibits acts done after the budget law is enacted. He emphasized that lawmakers can propose programs and projects during the planning stage.
“It’s really part of their job to bring some bacon to their districts. I know the Supreme Court is very clear – post-operative, after the law has been passed 'di ka na pwede [magdagdag] (you can no longer add). Pero sa NEP, your honor, 'di pa naman ho tapos 'yun (it's not yet over),” Diokno told Lacson.
“What I am saying is a congressman, if he’s really hardworking, can approach a [Cabinet] secretary. At the time talagang pinapakinggan sila (they are really listened to) because they represent their constituents,” he added.
Is it pork?
Senator Juan Miguel Zubiri, former Bukidnon representative, opposed Lacson’s view, saying lawmakers sometimes have no option left but to ask the concerned department agencies for help.
“If I push for a bigger budget for example in DSWD, for obvious reasons I was not a favored politician in the last 6 years of the Aquino administration, 'di naman kami (we are not members of the) Liberal [Party]. The only way to really reduce poverty levels is to increase the conditional cash transfer program. This is the reality of it," Zubiri said.
"If I approach Sec Diokno and ask Sec Diokno together with DSWD: 'Can you double the benefits of my CCT recipients in Bukidnon so that they would be uplifted from the position in their poverty level?' Will it be illegal?" Zubiri asked.
"If DBM and DSWD, would that be considered pork barrel? Because I have to fight, I am a senator yet my province is in the top 10 poorest. It is criminal and immoral on my part not to do anything about it," he added.
Lacson, in response, said lawmakers can course their proposal through the local development councils (LDCs), as it is the proper way to do so.
Citing the SC decision on the PDAF, Lacson said LDCs should neither be overridden nor duplicated by individual legislators, who are national officers with no lawmaking authority except only when acting as a body.
Diokno, for his part, said the executive does not automatically approve proposed projects.
"If you propose a project not within the priority of the Duterte administration, siguro 'di na maapprove 'yan. 'Yun ang tenor ng statement ko. (It's likely it won't be approved. That's the tenor of my statement). You are entitled to approach the secretary before the budget has been passed. That is, to me, compliant with the SC," Diokno said. – Rappler.com