SOME senators and members of the House of Representatives got billions of pesos in “pork barrel” under the General Appropriations Act of 2017, Senator Panfilo Lacson claimed on Wednesday.
Lacson made the revelation after learning that the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) regained the P8- billion allocation slashed from its budget and even got an additional budget of P497 million.
The senator said he learned about the P5 billion “pork” of some House members from Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) congressmen who talked to him during the plenary debates on the proposed 2017 budget.
The ARMM congressmen, Lacson said, explained their side on the specific allocation embedded on the DPWH’s budget intended for projects to be implemented in the eight legislative districts of the autonomous region.
Lacson, during the budget deliberation, pushed for the return of the P8.3 billion to the ARMM budget which the House of Representatives transferred to the DPWH and the removal of the P3.6 billion from the DPWH budget intended to fund infrastructure projects at ARMM.
Lacson said the transfer is not allowed under Republic Act 6734 or an act providing for an organic act for the ARMM.
“If you add the P8.3 billion and the P3.6 billion the House of Representatives allotted to ARMM and divided it for the eight legislative districts in the region, it would mean that each ARMM congressman get P1.5 billion worth of projects in 2017,” Lacson said earlier.
The ARMM congressmen, the senator said, told him that the P1.5 billion worth of projects each of them were asking for their respective districts was small compared to the allocation given to some congressmen who were allowed up to P5 billion in projects.
“Change is coming? Maybe, but it’s pork allocations changing hands from LP (Liberal Party) congressmen to those from Mindanao,” Lacson said.
The lawmaker admitted that some of his colleagues in the Senate also got P300 million worth of projects but he did not name names.
Lacson said that he did not submit his list of projects to be funded by the P300 million.
He said two senators approached him after learning about the P1.5 billion being sought by ARMM congressmen and told him that members of the House were asking too much considering that senators were only allowed P300 million each.
“Senators Tito (Vicente) Sotto 3rd and Kiko (Francis) Pangilinan approached me on separate occasions to inform me that they too did not submit. I don’t know who else among my Senate colleagues likewise did not submit their list,” Lacson said.
He clarified however that he is not saying that those who identified their projects in the 2017 national budget would get commissions from contractors.
“What I’m trying to say is Filipinos are made to believe that the PDAF (Priority Development Assistance Fund) is dead after the Supreme Court (SC) ruling in 2013. I am not stupid. Filipinos are not stupid. They are just resigned, I think. After all these years that I and my staff scrutinize the budget books year in and year out, I know pork when I see it,” Lacson said.
The senator’s efforts to have the P8.3-billion “pork” removed from the DPWH budget failed since the agency was able to regain the said amount and even managed to get an additional P497 million at the expense of the calamity fund.
Lacson said the additional funding increased the 2017 DPWH budget from P445.766 billion to P454.721 billion but led to a huge cut in the budget of the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Fund (NDRRMC) or Calamity Fund under the Special Purpose Fund.
From an original budget of P37.255 billion in the National Expenditure Program (NEP), the calamity fund was reduced to a mere P15.755 billion in the GAA or a reduction of P21.5 billion.
“What is unfortunate is that with massive devastations brought by recent calamities starting with Pablo, Yolanda, Karen, Lawin, and Nina, to name some, most of the victims might be left to fend for themselves instead of getting sufficient government assistance,” Lacson said.
He cited the Yolanda rehabilitation program that still needs at least P100 billion to complete.
He noted that when he was the presidential adviser on rehabilitation and recovery, he recommended funding of P167.8 billion but up to now, based on the annual budget being appropriated for the purpose since 2014, the amount has been a drop in the bucket compared to the total budget required.
“What is sad here is the thought of sacrificing the victims of calamities for political favors and alliances. The details of the DPWH budget and other agencies are not yet out. Once we get hold of the budget books, we will diligently scrutinize them,” Lacson said.