MANILA, Philippines – Top leaders of the Senate on Monday, January 9, defended the 2017 budget from allegations it has hidden pork.
Senate President Aquilino Pimentel III and Senate President Pro-Tempore Franklin Drilon said this year’s allocation does not violate the law, as earlier alleged by Senator Panfilo Lacson.
What the Supreme Court ruled as unconstitutional in 2013, both said, is the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF), wherein lawmakers could intervene in the release of funds after the budget is enacted into law.
In the present budget, senators explained that lawmakers proposed projects before the budget law was passed, saying the President has the option to reject it.
“We have basically a difference in the fundamental definition of what pork barrel is. As a lawyer, I will limit myself to what the Supreme Court. So that’s the act we should guard against, not that lawmakers have their ideas or proposals incorporated into the budget which is a law,” Pimentel told reporters in an interview on Monday, January 9.
Asked if the budget has no pork barrel, he said: "Yes, the law can be implemented without waiting for inputs, communication, letters, prompts from lawmakers. It’s a self-executing law, so hindi kino-control ng lawmakers (so the lawmakers are not controlling it)."
Pimentel also likened the national budget to any other laws pending before Congress and the President, saying the former should not be treated differently.
“A lot of laws expressed ideas, sentiments from lawmakers so why should the budget be exempted from this phenomenon? Especially if the executive branch is open to accomodating and accepting proposal and ideas from lawmakers,” he said.
Lacson earlier criticized the P80-million allotment for each lawmaker for proposed projects in the 2017 national budget, calling it apparent pork barrel.
He also hit the administration for slashing calamity funds to reinstate the P9 billion lump sum funds for lawmakers found in the Department of Public Works and Highways's budget.
Drilon said there’s nothing wrong with lawmakers proposing projects, as they could still be vetoed.
“In other words, even if the legislators are allowed to submit projects before the enactment of the budget, that submission is subject to review and can be disapproved,” Drilon said.
“That’s the essence why the PDAF was declared unconstituional because the merit of a particular project being included in the budget is not subject to review... Today, that is not so,” Drilon added.
Drilon admitted submitting projects such as the flood control program in his province of Iloilo.
“I submitted. I’m not ashamed of it. I submitted. It’s up to the President to review it.
If this is disapproved, if it’s not released so be it…” the senator said.
Drilon also confirmed that the Senate leadership, including the chair of the Senate finance committee Senator Loren Legarda, asked colleagues to propose projects. He, however, denied they were allowed to submit up to P300 million worth of projects as Lacson alleged.
“Yes, we admit that the leadership of the Senate, the chair of the committee, asked us what are the projects and who will submit these for the approval of Congress and for the approval of the President,” he said.
Lacson, who has refused to receive any amount of pork barrel since then, apologized to his colleagues for “putting them on the spot,” saying he is just firm on his advocacy against pork barrel.
“I'm sorry if I put my colleagues on the spot. My advocacy against pork in whatever form, shape and design stands taller than camaraderie,” he said in a tweet. – 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 firstname.lastname@example.org