Congressmen, senators to get millions each in 2019 budget – Andaya

MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – House Majority Leader Rolando Andaya said each member of both houses of Congress will receive millions of pesos in allocations under the proposed P3.757-trillion budget for 2019 for their pet projects.

Andaya disclosed this on Wednesday, November 28, days after Senator Panfilo Lacson alleged that the 2019 budget is riddled with lump sum discretionary funds for congressmen, with each House member supposedly getting an allotment worth P60 million.

Andaya said "probably more or less" P60 million was allocated for each district, with the representative of that district given the power to identify which specific projects – from health care to infrastructure – would be funded.

Andaya was quick to point out that the P60 million is not a form of the now-unconstitutional Priority Development Assistance Fund or pork barrel. He said this is because congressmen will have to itemize where the P60 million will be allocated.

Congressmen will have to itemize where the funds will go: Once President Rodrigo Duterte signs the 2019 budget, Andaya said lawmakers would no longer have the power to reallocate the funds.

"At this point in time, they have to itemize everything. It has to be clear. It's not a lump sum. We are compliant with the Supreme Court decision that the legislature – the Senate and the House – cannot interfere in the post-enactment phase of the budget," Andaya told CNN Philippines' The Source.

"We are in the authorization stage, which is our realm.... We are compliant, so we want to itemize everything from the smallest project to the biggest project. So there will be no intervention coming from the legislators come implementation," he added.

Isn't it pork barrel if congressmen can identify the items? In a separate press conference, Andaya was asked if the P60 million per district is still a form of pork barrel, given the fact that the congressman would have a say as to where the funds will be allocated.

Andaya said the discretion rests not just on the lawmaker who represents a district, but also the department concerned.

Without addressing the question on what he earlier indicated were district-specific allocations, he said: "So 'yong 'nilagay namin sa DOH (Department of Health) na additional funding for hospitals, pork barrel din 'yon? 'Yong 'nilagay namin sa SUCs (state universities and colleges) for their buildings, pork barrel din 'yon? 'Yong Comelec (Commission on Elections) for the elections, dagdag na pondo nila, 'nilagay namin 'yon, pork barrel din 'yon?"

(So the additional funding we gave to the DOH for hospitals, that's pork barrel? The money we allocated for the buildings of SUCs, that's pork barrel? The additional funds we gave to Comelec, that's pork barrel?)

"So it has to be clarified. I think the word has been abused so much that anything that Congress does now would be pork barrel," he added.

He said congressmen are well within their rights to decide how much funds will be allocated for certain projects during the budget submission stage.

Senators' allocations are bigger: He then took a swipe at Lacson, saying the latter should also look into the budget allocations for his colleagues at the Senate. 

According to Andaya, senators were also allocated P200 million each so they can identify which projects they want to fund.

"Mahirap naman 'yung (It's difficult when) we're trying our best to be compliant and then be branded as something which we do not intend to be. Maybe it should be a fair discussion. As far as I know, there is around P200 million also per senator, which he can identify for health, for education, and for public works," said Andaya. 

The government is expected to operate with a reenacted budget until at least the first week of February 2019, following the delayed passage of the 2019 budget in the House.

All districts will have allocations: Budget deliberations in the lower chamber were hampered after the House leadership under Speaker Gloria Macapagal Arroyo said they discovered some P50 billion worth of "misplaced" funds in the 2019 budget. 

Sources said these funds were parked under certain allocations when the budget was prepared during the time of then-speaker Pantaleon Alvarez, who was later ousted. The money was supposed to benefit favored lawmakers, an allegation that Alvarez denied.

The House has since realigned a total of P51.792 billion from the Department of Public Works and Highways, which was originally allocated for infrastructure projects across 15 regions. The money will instead go to other projects of the DPWH and other agencies.

Andaya said the P60 million allocated for each congressman fall under this P51-billion fund. As to the P200 million supposedly allocated for senators, he said it would be best to ask them where the money came from.

In a separate statement, Andaya said the "underlying principle" for the multimillion-peso allocations is that "no district will be left behind."

"Walang karapatan o kapangyarihan ang sinuman sa Senado o House of Representatives na magpamudmod ng pondo para sa proyekto (No one in the Senate or the House has the right or power to pour funds into a certain project). What [are] erroneously being referred to as pork barrel in the 2019 [national budget] are funds initially allotted for all congressional districts in the country," said Andaya.

"The underlying principle here: no district will be left behind. All will get a share, a piece of the pie, for the benefit of their constituents. These are not pork barrel funds declared illegal by the Supreme Court," he added. – Rappler.com

Mara Cepeda

Mara Cepeda writes about politics and women’s rights for Rappler. She covers the House of Representatives and the Office of the Vice President. Got tips? Send her an email at mara.cepeda@rappler.com or shoot her a tweet @maracepeda.

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