'Photo by LeAnne Jazul/Rappler
MANILA, Philippines – Senator Panfilo Lacson has challenged President Rodrigo Duterte to show his political will to end corruption in government by vetoing all 'pork barrel" items in the 2017 national budget.
Lacson said in a news conference on Thursday, December 15, that the President's action on the 2017 budget would be a "test" of his campaign promise to stamp out corruption.
“I want to see this as a test to the political will of the President. This is the best test as far as I'm concerned na ayaw niya talaga ng (that he really doesn't want) corruption,” he said.
“Gusto ko makita o itest kung papayagan nya umiral ulit ang pork barrel and magsuffer government projects kung hindi nya ivi-veto ang dapat nya i-veto (I want to see or test if he would allow the proliferation of pork barrel and let goverment projects suffer if he would not veto what he should veto),” he added.
Lacson, vice chairman of the Senate finance committee, was one of two senators who opposed the ratification of the bicameral conference committee report on the proposed P3.35- trillion 2017 budget on Wednesday, December 14, citing the alleged continued existence of pork barrel funds years after the Supreme Court ruled that the funds are unconstitutional.
Case before Supreme Court
The senator also said he was thinking of fling a case before the Supreme Court to question alleged pork barrel-filled 2017 budget.
Before he decides on whether to push through with the case, the senator said he would have to wait for the final version of the 2017 GAA. The budget bill is subject to presidential veto.
“I’m considering, pero depende 'di pa naman napapasa [ang 2017 General Appropriations Act] (but it depends since the 2017 General Appropriations Act is still not approved),” Lacson said.
In his opposition speech on the budget, Lacson stood firm that billions of questionable lumpsum funds still exist years after the High Court ruled that "pork barrel" is unconstitutional.
He earlier moved to remove the “pork-like” P8.3 billion inserted in the public works budget meant for projects in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao at the bicameral conference committee, saying it violates Republic Act 9054 or the Organic Act for the ARMM. (READ: Lacson to House: Don't blame Villar for 'pork' cut from DPWH budget)
Lacson claimed the billions of pork barrel are “parked” in the Department of Public Works and Highways, Department of Education, Department of Health, and Department of Justice, among other offices.
Smell of pork
During the Senate budget hearings, Lacson questioned P9 billion in lump sum funds inserted in the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) central office. (READ: Pork barrel? DPWH grilled over P9B lump sum funds)
The amount – which he said "smelled" of pork barrel – is meant for unexplained and repeated “feasibility studies” and “legislative districts.”
“Madaling makita, maamoy, at mabasa kung nasaan 'yung mga pork – feasibility studies, engineering design, P5.9 billion… and then below it P500 million for feasibility in the central office. Ano ang ibig sabihin noon? Bakit di pa ginawang P6.4 billion total? Bakit nakahiwalay?”
(It's so easy to see, smell, and read pork barrel – feasibility studies, engineering design, P5.9 billion…and then below it P500 million for feasibility in the central office. What does that mean? Why don't you just put them into one, P6.4 billion total? Why do you have to separate it?)
“May 'legislative district' so and so. Meron bang legislative district ang DPWH? Only one reason kung ano legislative district: baka kasi magkawalaan [ng pork barrel] (There's also 'legislative district' so and so. Does the DPWH have legislative district? There's only one reason for that: They're afraid to lose their pork barrel)," he said.
Lacson said the Department of Budget and Management earlier allowed the existence of pork barrel when it allowed lawmakers to specify their pet projects, which the DBM eventually denied.
The House of Representatives also denied there is pork barrel in the budget, arguing what is prohibited is the identification of projects after the enactment of the 2017 General Appropriations Act. – Rappler.com
Camille Elemia is Rappler's lead reporter for media, disinformation, 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 email@example.com