A BIG chunk of the pork barrel funds of lawmakers is inserted and realigned during closed-door meetings of the bicameral conference committee, prompting anti-pork advocates to demand the removal of that privilege from legislators.
In separate interviews with The Manila Times, lawyer-activist Argee Guevarra and Empowered People’s Initiative and Referendum Movement Alliance (ePIRMA) convenor Manny SD. Lopez said that while deliberations are openly done in the House of Representatives and the Senate, differences over certain provisions of a particular bill, including budget measure, are threshed out during discussions of the bicameral conference committees.
“This is where horse-trading takes place. That’s why we call it the third congress because after much debate in the House and in the Senate, the bicam would come in later and introduce changes, most of which are significant. To note, these are done behind closed doors,” Guevarra said.
Last week, Justice Secretary Leila de Lima said at least three government agencies were involved in “congressional insertions” done during bicam meetings.
A conference committee is composed of members from the Senate and House to settle, reconcile differences or disagreements on any provision of a proposed legislation. Each committee, however, is not limited to reconciling the differences in the bill but its members could introduce new provisions germane to the subject matter.
In some cases, bicameral committees had reported out an entirely new bill which would then be subject for consideration and approval of both chambers prior to the signing of the President.
“No amendment is allowed by then,” Guevarra pointed out.
Lopez said the ePIRMA legal team led by Jose Roy 3rd identified the vast powers of the conference committees as one of the “loopholes of the nation’s flawed public finance system that has compromised public interest and generated widespread condemnation from citizens and taxpayers.”
In fact, he said that during their discussions on the contents of the draft law that they would push for enactment through People’s Initiative (PI), proponents have resolved to do away with committee deliberations on bicam insertions to prevent corruption.
He said the draft measure prohibits “indirect circumvention of this law by budgetary insertions, tucking and later realigning; insertions thru the bi-cam report, which must be approved by both houses.”
“There must always be full deliberation and not merely committee deliberations of bi-cam insertions,” he said.
“The ePIRMA legal team has had a number of meetings and collaborated online among themselves and in conference with various resource persons, including public finance experts from the academe, private sector, legislators and former government officials. Among those from whom we sought opinion from included former Chief Justice Reynato Puno, former National treasurer Leonor Briones, incumbent members of the House of Representatives among others. In due course, we came up with a conceptual framework and proposed provisions,” Lopez added.
To be continued