Lacson to House: Don’t blame Villar for ‘pork’ cut from DPWH budget

Camille Elemia
Lacson to House: Don’t blame Villar for ‘pork’ cut from DPWH budget
Senator Panfilo Lacson appeals to members of the House of Representatives to confirm the appointment of Public Works and Highways Secretary Mark Villar

MANILA, Philippines – After the removal of the P8.3-billion pork-like insertions in the budget of the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH), Senator Panfilo Lacson appealed to the House of Representatives not to blame Secretary Mark Villar and to confirm his nomination in the Commission on Appointments (CA).

Lacson made this plea during the bicameral conference committee on the proposed P3.3-trillion 2017 budget on Tuesday, December 13.

The senator said the powerful CA bypassed Villar on the basis of the amendment.

But it was Lacson who moved to remove the P8.3 billion inserted in the DPWH budget meant for projects in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, saying it violates Republic Act 9054 or the Organic Act for the ARMM.

“I was told that the secretary of public works and highways Secretary Mark Villar is feeling the brunt, falling on his shoulders on the account of the interventions that I made in the budget of the department,” Lacson said.

“Just for the record. Kindly appeal to your colleagues in the CA kasi na-bypass ata siya ngayon sa confirmation (because I think his confirmation was bypassed) on account of amendments I introduced. It’s all me. Si Secretary Mark has nothing to do with those amendments,” the senator told the House panel.

Lacson also earlier warned of the return of pork barrel or lump sum funds in the 2017 budget, adding the Department of Budget and Management allowed lawmakers to identify P80 million worth of projects.

He said this was the pork barrel system that the Supreme Court already declared unconstitutional in 2013.

Lacson said Senator Cynthia Villar, the DPWH chief’s mother, appealed to him but he stood by his amendment.

“In fact he’s appealing through the mother. I stood my ground simply because I believe and rightly so, it is a clear violation of [the] Organic Act,” he said.

Senator Loren Legarda, chairperson of the Senate finance committee, echoed Lacson’s appeal.

“I am one with him in appealing with colleagues in the Commission on Appointments in the Lower House to not connect any bicam tension to the Commission on Appointments,” Legarda said.

During earlier Senate budget briefings, Lacson also questioned the DPWH for some P9 billion in lump sum funds allocated to the agency’s central office. 

No idea where Lacson is coming from

The plea of Lacson and Legarda came as a supposed surprise to some lawmakers, including Davao City 1st District Representative Karlo Nograles, chairman of the House appropriations committee.

Nograles said Lacson’s amendment was a “non-issue.” In fact, the congressman added, he does not know and understand where the senator is coming from.

“I think he’s getting the wrong impression. There’s no connection whatsoever. Hindi ko maintindihan (I don’t understand) where that comment came from. There is no connection whatsoever. Walang konek ‘yun (There’s no connection),” Nograles told reporters.

Despite Lacson’s claims, Nograles maintained there is no pork barrel in the 2017 budget, including the earlier House version.

“Even in the House version, there was no pork to begin with kaya ‘di ko maintindihan kung paano lumalabas ‘yung comments na ‘yan kasi binusisi na namin ‘yan (that’s why I don’t understand why there are comments like that because we already scrutinized it). As far as we’re concerned, that’s not pork ’cause that’s a line item identified through [the] medium-term development plan by the National Economic and Development Authority,” he said.

Nograles explained that the contention arose from the two chambers’ opposing views on the Organic Act.

“Ang sa House, ang interpretation namin ng Organic Act (For the House, our interpretation of the Organic Act is that) there is nothing in the Organic Act that precludes national government agencies from implementing projects in the ARMM,” he said.

“Otherwise, lugi na masyado ang ARMM (Otherwise, the ARMM will be on the losing end). Meaning to say, how does the big brother-small brother operate now? Ibig sabihin, hindi na puwede tulungan ng national government ang ARMM? (Does this mean, the national government can no longer help the ARMM?) That’s a ridiculous interpretation,” Nograles added.

To solve the gridlock, both chambers decided to transfer P8 billion to the Commission on Higher Education to provide free tuition in state universities and colleges.

Both houses of Congress are set to ratify the bicameral conference committee report on the proposed 2017 budget on Tuesday afternoon. – Rappler.com

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Camille Elemia

Camille Elemia is Rappler's lead reporter for media, disinformation issues, and democracy. She won an ILO award in 2017. She received the prestigious Fulbright-Hubert Humphrey fellowship in 2019, allowing her to further study media and politics in the US. Email camille.elemia@rappler.com