MANILA, Philippines – Voting 17-2-1, the Senate on Wednesday, December 14, ratified the bicameral conference committee report on the proposed P3.35-trillion budget for 2017, the first budget under the Duterte administration.
Only Senators Panfilo Lacson and Sherwin Gatchalian opposed it while Majority Leader Vicente Sotto III abstained.
Lacson voted against the measure due to the alleged continued existence of “pork barrel” or lumpsum funds, which the Supreme Court declared unconstitutional in 2013.
“With a heavy heart, I'm voting against the ratification in the bicam report on the 2017 national budget. I do so for various reasons, the most compelling of which is the continuing presence of the pork barrel,” Lacson said in his speech.
Lacson had moved to remove the “pork-like” P8.3 billion inserted in the DPWH 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)
The House yielded to Lacson's amendment and denied there is "pork" in the budget. The amount was eventually transferred to the Commission on Higher Education to provide for free tuition fees in state universities and colleges.
Despite this, Lacson lamented the continued existence of P3.6 billion in “pork barrel” in the ARMM budget.
“Suffice it to say, I know pork when I see it, even when I smell it. In the lounge, right in my office, during informal discussion, casual discussions with colleagues and congressmen even,” said the senator, an advocate against lumpsum funds.
Senator Loren Legarda, finance committee chair, sponsored the bicameral conference committee report on the floor.
“This is a budget that is in line with the President’s 10-Point Socioeconomic Agenda and we ensured that it funds the necessary services needed by our citizens, such as universal healthcare, free tuition for all in state universities and colleges (SUCs), and additional funds for social services,” she said.
The 2017 budget, she said, allocated funds for free irrigation, additional funds for prisoners’ subsistence allowance, pension for post-World War II veterans and centenarians, among others.
Lacson, despite his opposition, still thanked Legarda for fighting for his amendments in the bicameral meetings with lawmakers “as if it were her own.”
He thanked Legarda for pushing for the additional P770 million for public school teachers’ chalk allowance and P545 million for the Philippine National Police, among others.
"There is no saying here that I am not grateful to the Chairperson of the Finance Committee, Senator Legarda, not only for adopting most if not all of my institutional amendments, but for standing firm on those amendments as if it were her own," Lacson said.
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