Lacson ‘confused’ about pork in 2017 budget – Nograles

Mara Cepeda
Lacson ‘confused’ about pork in 2017 budget – Nograles
The chairman of the House committee on appropriations insists only specific line-item projects identified by government agencies can be found in the approved 2017 budget

MANILA, Philippines – Was Senator Panfilo Lacson just “confused” about the 2017 national budget when he insisted that it has pork barrel funds? 

Davao City 1st District Representative Karlo Nograles seems to think so, as he denied the senator’s allegation that this year’s P3.35-trillion budget is not pork-free.

“That’s not true. There is no pork barrel. There is no PDAF (Priority Development Assistance Fund) in the budget. There are no post-enactment projects in the budget,” the chairman of the House appropriations committee said in a statement on Thursday, January 5.

“You will only see specific line-item projects that have been identified by different agencies and departments of government. I think that Senator Lacson is confused about this issue,” Nograles added. 

Lacson alleged that some congressmen will be getting allocations worth P1.5 billion to P5 billion, and senators P300 million each for their pet projects under the 2017 General Appropriations Act (GAA) which President Rodrigo Duterte signed into law  on December 22, 2016. (READ: Lacson hits allotment for lawmakers in 2017 budget: ‘Return to PDAF?’

The senator had previously challenged the President to veto “pork-like” funds in the 2017 budget to show he is serious in fighting corruption, one of his campaign promises. Lacson said he might question the budget before the Supreme Court (SC) should Duterte refuse to do so. (READ: Lacson dares Duterte: Show political will, veto ‘pork’ in 2017 budget

It was upon Lacson’s insistence during the bicameral conference committee that P8.3 billion was transferred to the Commission on Higher Education for free tuition in state universities and colleges

The amount was originally allotted for the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, but was placed under the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) budget. 

On Thursday, Nograles explained that the budget process followed a two-tiered approach in identifying which projects to allocate funds for. The Department of Budget and Management also evaluated the proposed budget before it was submitted to the House for scrutiny.  

“From its inception, the projects and programs have been itemized and spelled out clearly and specifically. From the House all the way to the Senate, the DBM monitors every movement of the budget process to ensure there is no violation of the SC decision against pork barrel,” said Nograles. 

He maintained that congressmen respect the SC ruling that declared PDAF unconstitutional.

“We in Congress also exercised strict adherence against the pork barrel to ensure that we comply with the SC decision. If anything, we have made doubly sure that projects and programs are even more specific so there will be no room at all for post-enactment,” said Nograles.

“All our hearings and deliberations will bear this out – which have always been transparent and open. The budget book itself is a public document open to scrutiny by anyone,” he added. 

Calamity Fund affected? 

Lacson also claimed that the DPWH received another P8.55 million worth of pork barrel on top of the P497 million added to its budget for this year – at the expense of the Calamity Fund. 

“What is sad here is the thought of sacrificing the victims of calamities for political favors and alliances,” said Lacson. 

Nograles, however, assured the public that there would be no shortage of funds to be used in times of calamities and other national emergencies in 2017. 

“Let me reassure the public that the balance of the 2016 Calamity Fund as of October 31, 2016, was around P30 billion. So we may assume that up to December 31, 2016, the estimated balance may be around P25 billion. This fund will be carried over to 2017,” said Nograles. 

“So adding this to the new 2017 appropriations of P15.755 billion, the total Calamity Fund at government’s disposal for 2017 will be more than P40 billion.” – Rappler.com

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Mara Cepeda

Mara Cepeda specializes in stories about politics and local governance. She covers the Office of the Vice President, the Senate, and the Philippine opposition. She is a 2021 fellow of the Asia Journalism Fellowship and the Reham al-Farra Memorial Journalism Fellowship of the UN. Got tips? Email her at mara.cepeda@rappler.com or tweet @maracepeda.