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Budget row rocks House, lawmakers wrangle

MEMBERS of the House of Representatives have not even started budget deliberations on the plenary level but, already, they have started wrangling over suspicions of “pork” insertions.

A view of the plenary hall of the House of Representatives. PHOTO BY RUY MARTINEZ

On Monday, some lawmakers opposed the decision of Deputy Speaker Luis Raymund “LRay” Villafuerte to withdraw the P4.1-trillion budget for 2020 from being tabled for first reading, casting doubt on the proceedings that may lead to a repeat of last year’s budget impasse brought by alleged “pork” insertions.

House appropriations committee chairman Isidro “Sid” Ungab said Villafuerte’s move would “definitely derail the schedule and approval of the budget.”

Ungab said it was an established practice of the panel to prepare the General Appropriations Bill (GAB) immediately after the National Expenditure Program had been submitted.

“I’ve been with the appropriations committee for a long time… I know when not to put insertions in the proposed budget. He (Villafuerte) is implying that an insertion will really be made. He keeps on intervening, he wants to amend the GAB, which is wrong,” he said in English and Filipino.

House Committee on Ways and Means Chairman Joey Salceda said because of Villafuerte’s motion, the printing of the bill had to be stopped.

“Hearings will go on but the significant implication is we can’t go to the floor without the GAB referred to the committee, approved by the committee and passed through the rules committee,” Salceda said.

“To prepare another set of General Appropriations Bill will require enormous time, efforts and resources that will surely affect or delay the passage of the 2020 Budget,” Ungab noted.

Bayan Muna party-list said the budget bill withdrawal might just be a “prelude to pork barrel insertions” and proposed to suspend budget deliberations to scrutinize the measure.

“This development is quite alarming, even disturbing. It smells like the greasy patronage pork is being put into the oven. In light of this, we are calling for a suspension of the budget deliberations until the 2020 GAB… is refiled,” said Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos Zarate.

“We also need to scrutinize the GAB that will be refiled to see if indeed more pork, amorphous lump sum funds or intelligence and confidential funds have been added to the budget,” he said.

Rep. Ferdinand Gaite said the budget fiasco might be a result of the speakership fight in the House.

“As can be seen, Rep. LRay Villafuerte is associated with Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano, while House Appropriations Committee Chairman
Rep. Isidro Ungab is associated with Rep. Paolo Duterte and Mayor Sara Duterte, and this intramurals on the 2020 budget is a manifestation of the fight between their principals,” he said.

Villafuerte said he moved to withdraw and return to the committee level the “prematurely filed” House Bill 4228 as ordered by House Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano.

“Cong. Sid Ungab wanted to fast-track the approval… he put the names of the concerned House members, including Speaker Alan as co-author of the GAB. I asked him (Cayetano) if he knew about this, he said he didn’t know,” Villafuerte told The Manila Times.

“Everything should be done in due process. We should have a hearing first with all concerned agencies regarding their budget proposals. We still have time,” he added.

Late Monday, Cayetano said the House leadership had resolved through a meeting all issues surrounding the procedure, leaving no place for “pork and parking.”

“We assure the public that the budget will be scrutinized, but will not be delayed and will be transparent. Pork and parking have no place in the 2020 budget,” the speaker said.

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