'Sick and tired' of pork claims, Sotto pushes reenacted budget for whole 2019

MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – Amid allegations of pork barrel and fund insertions in the proposed 2019 budget, a seemingly irked Senate President Vicente Sotto III has proposed a reenacted budget for the whole of 2019.

"Considering the numerous allegations being leveled at the 2019 budget both from the HOR [House of Representative] and the Senate, I will propose to Senator Loren, as chair of the Finance Committee, to withdraw the Senate GAB [General Appropriations Bill] version and go for a reenacted budget," Sotto told reporters in a message on Wednesday, January 30.

"I hope that will erase all doubts and allegations of pork and other so-called insertions in the budget," he added.

Sotto said the 2019 midterm elections would not be affected.

"The budget for the 2019 elections is in the 2018 budget," Sotto said.

"I will tell Loren ASAP. We talked earlier and I'm sick and tired of the allegations," he said.

Sotto made the statement after senators' realignments in the 2019 allocation were questioned during the bicameral conference committee, with some alluding that it was pork.

Under its version of the budget, the Senate is seeking to realign almost P190 billion – way higher than the P51-billion realignment proposed by the House of Representatives – under the proposed P3.757-trillion budget this year.

Senator Panfilo Lacson, who has scrutinized the House's budget bill and slammed insertions of their counterpart lawmakers, later disclosed the multibillion-peso worth of realignments he was proposing, for the sake of transparency.

On Wednesday, House committee on appropriations chairperson Rolando Andaya Jr said they are against a reenacted budget.

"Long before senators called for transparency, we have unilaterally announced that we are ready and willing to disclose and justify our amendments to the national budget. I urge my Senate friends not to abandon the bicameral conference proceedings. I remain hopeful of a positive outcome," Andaya said in a statement.

Speaker Gloria Macapagal Arroyo likewise said she prefers that a new budget for 2019 be passed by Congress before they adjourn session on February 6.

"Well, of course we want to have it come out before it's too late. So I think you have read in the newspapers that the Senate owned up to P200 billion in their own amendments. So that has to be sorted out between the House and the Senate," Arroyo said.

The government is currently operating under the 2018 budget worth P3.767 trillion, after Congress failed to approve this year's proposed allocation on time. This would be the case until a new budget is signed into law.

Lawmakers earlier eyed the passage of the 2019 budget by mid-February. Congress is set to go on recess for the 2019 campaign starting February 9. Lawmakers are set to return from May 20 to June 7. – with a report from Mara Cepeda/Rappler.com

Camille Elemia

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 camille.elemia@rappler.com

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