THE budget controversy is not resolved just because the Senate and the House have tossed to President Duterte the task of finalizing the 2019 General Appropriations Act (GAA) with his signature.
The process could be derailed in case he gets the hiccups or trips on another trove of expletives.
We think that the President this time must focus on the task at hand: the review of the 2019 budget and finalization for his signature and enactment.
To set the President in the right frame of mind, we think it would be constructive if we interrogate the houses of Congress on some matters that need clarification.
1. In the bicameral conference committee version of the budget that has been signed by both the House Speaker and the Senate President, will the country’s 23 senators be getting pork barrel or earmark appropriations? Can the Senate release to the media the specific allocation of each senator, along with an explanation of why allocations may differ from senator to senator?
2. Can the House release also a list of pork for each representative, including the party-list representatives, along with explanations for any inequities in amounts?
3. It is reported by our media colleague, the Daily Tribune, that Sen. Loren Legarda as Senate finance committee chairman, inserted over P2 billion in pork barrel specifically directed to the province of Antique, where she is running for representative in the May elections. Is the allocation for Antique part of Senator Legarda’s pork barrel? Is she getting more pork than others by virtue of her committee work?
4. During the budget meeting between Senate and House leaders to break the budget impasse, the Senate leaders contended that the move of House leaders to itemize the P75-billion insertion in the proposed budget was illegal. Why did the Senate prefer that the insertion be left as a lump sum? Does this seek to protect Senate insertions?
Since the Supreme Court in its 2013 ruling on the constitutionality or legality of the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF), or the pork barrel, declared that specific appropriations should be textualized, isn’t the House proposal of itemization in conformity with the SC order?
Based on our reading of the SC ruling, what the high court objects to mainly is post-enactment interference by legislators, after the bill has already been signed into law by the President, following the approval by both houses.
We conclude from this that a budgetary outlay becomes unconstitutional and illegal only after budget enactment, and when action is taken by legislators that do not follow the rules for using budget outlays.
Technically, a budget appropriation would not become pork or an earmark, before a GAA is enacted.
Yet from the way he has obsessively raged against pork in every Congress, Sen. Panfilo Lacson appears to classify as pork any appropriations specifically targeted towards legislative districts. Will he say the same of appropriations that are left to the discretion of senators?
In the specific case of the P75-billion insertion, why does Senator Lacson approve of its lump sum listing in the budget? On the other hand, why is he objecting to the outlay being fully itemized?
These questions should be answered because the houses of Congress have a tendency of explaining issues at the expense of the other house. There is no little amount of hypocrisy involved, because both representatives and senators salivate at the prospect of getting pork.
The chief executive and his advisers should be unsparing in scrutinizing the budget. The horse-trading is over.