Minority congressmen defend Arroyo, insist no ‘pork barrel’ in 2019 budget

MANILA, Philippines – Minority congressmen went on the defense and said there was no “pork barrel” in the proposed P3.757-trillion budget for 2019 that they approved, contrary to claims by Senator Panfilo Lacson. 

The minority bloc was asked on Wednesday, December 5, to react to Lacson’s accusation that the 2019 General Appropriations Act was riddled with discretionary funds for legislators. 

Lacson said one congresswoman, whom he did not name, supposedly received P2.4 billion for her projects in  Lubao, Porac, Guagua, and Floridablanca. These are towns situated in Pampanga's 2nd District, which is represented in the House by Speaker Gloria Macapagal Arroyo.

House Majority Leader Rolando Andaya Jr previously admitted that every lawmaker got P60 million and each senator P200 million to allot for their pet projects. 

Like Andaya, however, Minority Leader Danilo Suarez – known for his loyalty to Arroyo – denied these discretionary funds were a form of the now-unconstitutional Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF).

He said it is part of the job of a district congressman like him to make sure that when their constituents request for projects – from basketball courts to farm-to-market roads – the lawmakers have to ensure funds are allocated for the requests.

“I'm sorry to say pero mukhang mali 'yong interpretation ni Ping…. ‘Di nag-congressman si Ping. Baka 'di niya naiintidihan 'yong problema ng may constituency,” said Suarez, who represents the 3rd district of Quezon.

(I’m sorry to say but it seems Ping’s interpretation is wrong… He did not become a congressman. Maybe he does not understand the problems of someone with a constituency.) 

Discretionary funds, but not in post-enactment phase

AKO Bicol Representative Alfredo Garbin Jr said the allocations were not a form of pork barrel supposedly because it no longer involves the post-enactment budget phase.

“Ang ginawa ho ngayon ng Kongreso, ng House of Representatives, [from] which the budget emanates, inisa-isa ho 'yong pangangailangan ng mga lamang distrito, departamento at ahensiya ng gobyerno kung ano 'yong nararapat na ilagay na budget doon. And 'yong pag-itemize ng lahat ng budgets sa 2019, nando'n na sa House, 'yon ay nakasaad sa decision ng Korte Supreme ay legal,” said Garbin, a lawyer. 

(What the House of Representatives did was to itemize the projects for the districts, departments, and agencies of the government. This itemization process is legal, according to the Supreme Court.)

“Ang hindi pinahihintulutan and it was declared by the Supreme Court that that it is unconstitutional ay 'yong post-enactment intervention. Wala na ho ngayong post-enactment intervention,” he added.

(What was declared as unconstitutional by the Supreme Court was the post-enactment intervention. We do not have post-enactment intervention anymore.)

Senior Deputy Minority Leader Lito Atienza echoed the same sentiments.

“I am against pork barrel as a general rule like Senator Lacson. But you cannot also deny that congressmen and senators have their own concerns. At kung 'yong lalakarin nila, magbigay ng solusyon [sa] kanilang problema sa tulay, problema sa highway, problema sa interconnection, eh trabaho nila 'yon. 'Wag nga lang nila ibubulsa 'yong pera (And if what they are lobbying for include solutions to problems involving bridges, highways, and interconnection, then that’s their job. But they should not pocket the money),” said Atienza.

Rappler already sought Arroyo’s camp for comment on Lacson’s allegations, but she has yet to reply as of posting time. – 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.