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Cayetano insists beef with DBM chief over infra budget not about pork barrel

Mara Cepeda
'Kung ang iniisip ng iba na may pinoprotektahan dito 'yung tinuturing mong pork barrel eh 'di sana nilagay na namin sa batas na bawal kunin 'yong infra,' says Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano on the Bayanihan to Heal as One Act

HOUSE LEADER. Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano presides over the special session on March 23, 2020. Photo by Darren Langit/Rappler

MANILA, Philippines – Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano denied that alleged pork barrel-like insertions in the infrastructure allocations under the P4.1-trillion budget in 2020 is the root cause of his “brewing disagreement” with Budget Secretary Wendel Avisado.  

Cayetano was asked in a radio interview on Sunday, April 26, to comment on accusations that he opposed Avisado’s circular to temporarily stop funding startup construction and repairs of government buildings. 

Critics believe that infrastructure has become notorious for multiple illegal budget insertions over the years and it may be the reason behind Cayetano’s beef with the Department of Budget and Management (DBM). 

“Hindi po pork barrel ‘to. Ang pork barrel ay may definition ang Supreme Court na ‘yung po ay lump sum tapos pipiliin namin kung saan nakalagay. Lahat ng projects na ‘to ay in-approve ng executive, in-approve ‘to ng Senado, in-approve ‘to ng House, and very specific projects ‘to. And we’re not even referring to the specific projects yet ‘di ba?” Cayetano told dzBB.

(This isn’t pork barrel. By definition of the Supreme Court, pork barrel are lump sums and you can choose wherever it will be used. All of these projects have been approved by the executive, the Senate, and the House, and these are very specific projects. We’re not even referring to the specific projects yet, right?) 

The Supreme Court had deemed the Priority Development Assistance Fund or pork barrel as unconstitutional in 2013 after it was revealed that funds were being coursed through bogus non-governmental organizations into the pockets of lawmakers. 

Cayetano argued that when the 18th Congress passed Republic Act No. 114469 or the Bayanihan to Heal as One Act, they allowed President Rodrigo Duterte to augment the budget for programs using savings from all existing appropriations in the 2020 budget. 

“Kung ang iniisip ng iba na may pinoprotektahan dito ‘yung tinuturing mong pork barrel eh ‘di sana nilagay na namin sa batas na bawal kunin ‘yong infra. Eh kami nga naglagay sa batas na whether obligated o hindi, whether released o hindi, puwedeng galawin eh,” Cayetano said. 

(If other people are thinking we are protecting what we consider as our pork barrel, then we should have indicated in the law that they can’t touch infrastructure. But we were the ones who placed in the law that they can touch items whether obligated or not, whether released or not.) 

The top House leader previously admitted he has an ongoing conflict with Avisado due to the latter’s belt-tightening circular calling on government agencies not part of the COVID-19 response to cut down on spending not related to the outbreak.

House committee on appropriations vice chairperson Joey Salceda previously admitted every legislator will be getting P100 million under the 2020 budget to fund their pet projects. Cayetano later confirmed the amount but denied this is a form of the now-unconstitutional pork barrel.

‘Build, Build, Build’ to respond to COVID-19

Cayetano said that the infrastructure budget should not be touched even while the country was trying to stem COVID-19 cases, which stood at 7,294 as of Saturday, April 25. 

He cited previous arguments made by President Rodrigo Duterte’s economic managers and other lawmakers regarding the need to enhance the “Build, Build, Build” program to help save the economy from the effects of COVID-19.  (READ: P370-billion stimulus package to cushion coronavirus impact pushed in House) 

“If I may add, not only [Finance] Secretary [Carlos] Dominguez III but the economic team at pati sa House at pati mga economist, ang consensus, ang pag-asa natin, kapag tumagal ‘yung COVID-19 ay magkaroon tayo ng enhanced Build, Build, Build para may economic stimulus,” Cayetano said. 

(If I may add, not only Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez III but also the economic team and even House members and several economists had the consensus that our hope relies on an enhanced Build, Build, Build program so we have an economic stimulus should the COVID-19 pandemic persist.) 

This is just the latest conflict between the House and DBM over the national budget.

In March, DBM decided to withhold the release of P80 billion worth of funds realigned by lawmakers under the 2020 budget pending a review of the allocations.

Ousted House committee on appropriations chair Isidro Ungab reportedly informed the President and the DBM chief about the alleged multibillion-peso illegal insertions in the 2020 budget, prompting Avisado to review the concerned budget items. 

Ungab was later booted out of the House leadership because Cayetano said he was “more interested [in sowing] intrigues.”  – Rappler.com

 

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.