MANILA, Philippines (4th UPDATE) – House Majority Leader Martin Romualdez appealed to Senator Panfilo Lacson that he reveal his sources regarding the alleged P1.5 billion given to each House deputy speaker under the 2020 budget.
In a brief press briefing on Tuesday, September 24, Romualdez denied Lacson’s allegations of pork barrel against the 22 House deputy speakers.
“Actually nalulungkot po kami kasi hindi natin alam kung saan galing 'yan (Actually we’re saddened by this because we don’t know where this came from)… At this point right now, nobody seems to know where’s that is coming from and it would be helpful if the good senator could help us ferret out the truth by revealing [to] us the sources and the details on these information,” said Romualdez.
On Monday, September 23, Lacson alleged “some congressmen” told him that every House deputy speaker is allegedly getting an additional P1.5 billion allocation under the proposed P4.1-trillion budget for 2020.
The senator, who has accused the House in the previous 17th Congress of passing a pork-riddled 2019 budget, also said each House member will be getting another P700 million to allot for their pet bills.
“The initial report we received, each deputy speaker – 22 of them – will be receiving an additional allocation of P1.5 billion. Easily that’s P33 billion. Each congressman will be given an allocation of P700 million. I hope that does not push through because that was a report transmitted to my office by some congressmen themselves,” Lacson said in an ambush interview.
“When we are talking of P700 million per congressman, times 300, that’s P21 billion. Plus P33 billion per deputy speaker kung matutuloy na (if it would push through, that's) P54 billion in pork,” added the senator.
Capiz 2nd District Representative Fredenil Castro, who was former House majority leader, likewise said it is Lacson’s “moral” duty to reveal who his sources were.
“I believe it is not only his moral obligation but it is his legal obligation to name his source and [name] who are these congressmen whom he said are sources of the alleged pork contaminating our General Appropriations Bill,” said Castro in a press conference on Tuesday.
“I think for us to know the truth and for us to know who they are [and] whether or not they are competent to accuse the House of Representatives…. or [they are] simply misleading Panfilo Lacson, I think it’s time they present who these congressman are,” he added.
House Deputy Speaker Eddie Villanueva denied receiving the alleged P1.5 billion.
“As far as i am concerned, as deputy speaker for good governance and moral uprightness, with due respect to Senator Lacson, his allegation of the said alleged plan to give all House deputies P1.5 billion each is a big big lie!" said the Cibac representative in a statement.
On Wednesday, September 25, Deputy Speaker Luis Raymund Villafuerte also denied Lacson’s claim that he was the mastermind behind the alleged plan to give each deputy speaker P1.5 billion.
“Senator Ping is my friend and I have high regard [and] respect [for him], and support his personal advocacy in fighting pork and illegal insertions in the budget. I fully supported his crusade against pork in the past and continue to support him now and in the future. I, however, would like to emphasize and firmly deny the claim that it was my idea to add P1.5 billion to each deputy speaker as completely baseless and fictional," said Villafuerte.
"We never thought of, discussed, planned, and even attempted to add a single peso to a district or for a congressman, what more P33 billion (P 1.5 billion x 22 deputy speakers) and, more unbelievable, [the] P 700 million for each of the 300 congressmen, which would total P 210 billion, not P 54 billion as reported. The claim and math [are] completely out of this world," added the Camarines Sur 2nd District congressman.
Lacson’s accusations come after House leaders defended the P1.6-billion increase in the lower chamber’s proposed budget for its day-to-day operations.
House committee on accounts chairperson Abraham Tolentino said the P1.6 billion would be for the additional deputy speakers and vice chairpersons in the current 18th Congress who now need to hire extra staff and get new offices.
Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano himself said the P1.6 billion would also fund the salary increases of congressional workers, the planned improvement of facilities, and strengthen the Congressional Budget and Planning Office.
In a privilege speech on Wednesday, Castro demanded that Lacson apologize to the House.
"I still respect Senator Lacson, but that respect does not mean that he is exonerated from his responsibility. And in order to confirm that indeed he is a soldierr... perhaps Senator Lacson could be sensible enough to realize what he has done and [that] he has damaged this institution by extending an apology, a sincere apology to this institution and to all members of this House of Representatives," said Castro.
In a statement, Lacson said it was Castro who should be apologizing to the Filipino public for "abusing their hard-earned tax money in all the years that he is in Congress."
The House’s proposed internal budget is now under scrutiny just a week after House committee on appropriations vice chairperson Joey Salceda said every legislator will be getting P100 million under the 2020 budget to fund their pet projects.
But Cayetano denied this is the form of the now-unconstitutional Priority Development Assistance Fund or pork barrel, as every allocation are specified as line items in the 2020 budget.
“But again, this is not pork. Kasama dito 'yong flyovers, kasama dito 'yong major highways going to ports, seaports, airports, etcetera. So 'yong sinasabi ni Congressman Salceda, if I’m not mistaken, is that everyone submitted parang may minimum na napunta sa kanilang distrito but actually, maliit pa nga 'yon. That’s why some congressmen admitted that they submitted more,” said Cayetano.
(But again, this is not pork. Among the projects included here are flyovers, major highways going to ports, seaports, airports, etcetera. So what Congressman Salceda said, if I’m not mistaken, is that everyone submitted a minimum amount that went to their district, but this is still small. That’s why some congressmen admitted that they submitted more.)
The Speaker said congressmen had also coordinated with local officials in their districts to ensure the need to fund these projects. – with a report from Aika Rey/Rappler.com