THIS is the new Congress we have: the House of Representatives wants its traditional “pork”; the Senate has invented insertions for itself.
Whatever hope the nation had that the 18th Congress would recapture the legislature’s honor and dignity, and forge a new closeness with the people, is quickly dissipating in the current acrimonious row between the chambers over the issue of pork in the 2020 budget.
Senators and representatives are hurling accusations against each other.
The quarrel would be productive and enlightening if it is not marked by so much hypocrisy and humbug.
This is essentially a battle of claims.
Sen. Panfilo Lacson, the senator who likes to accuse fellow lawmakers of irregularity, ignited the spat when he accused House members of seeking to insert P54 billion of pork in the 2020 budget.
House leaders have quickly replied by moving to slash the Senate’s budget in the new appropriations measure.
Following the practice of realigning budgets, the House threatens to slash the Senate’s outlay and apportion the trimmings to district representatives.
At the same time, some House leaders demanded an apology from Senator Lacson for smearing the House with his allegation.
In a privilege speech, Capiz Rep. Fred Castro, the former House majority leader, demanded an apology from Lacson for his allegedly “irresponsible” accusations.
For his part, Anakalusugan party-list Rep. Michael Defensor made the proposal to reduce the Senate’s budget. Defensor pointed out that senators, who do not have a constituency, should not be given a budget.
“Do they have a constituency that they have to protect and have to take care of?” Defensor asked Castro in interpellation.
To this, the former majority leader replied: “Well, allegedly, if you listen to them, while we have our district, they have the whole Republic of the Philippines. But, strictly speaking, it cannot be considered a constituency.”
“Considering that they do not have any constituency, I do not see the logic of giving funds to the Senate that would be disposed of in the same manner that congressmen are given the access and choice for their constituents.”
All this suggests that in the forthcoming bicameral conference committee meetings on the 2020 budget, the spokesman for the House will earnestly object to all the self-interested proposals of the senators.
“I hope,” said Defensor, “that in the bicameral conference committee, all initiatives coming from senators will be taken out, because the budget for them should be given to the district representatives and the different representatives advocating for certain sectors and protecting certain services.”
Replying to Castro’s demand for an apology, Lacson made a new charge. He said some congressmen had told him that the 22 deputy speakers of the House would get an allocation of P1.5 billion each.
The senator later withdrew this because the House had canceled the senators’ attempt to insert pork in the spending bill.
Other House members contended that it is not only Lacson who should apologize to the chamber, but the whole Senate.
Lacson riposted: “The whining and howling of Congressman Castro and his colleagues will not distract me from performing my mandate of scrutinizing the budget measure.”
Mr. Lacson forgets, however, that it was the Senate that invented the insertions stratagem to bypass the emphatic Supreme Court decision on Nov. 19, 2013, that the Priority Development Assistance Fund, or “pork barrel,” is unconstitutional.
Two weeks after the decision was handed down, nine senators at the time brazenly proposed the bypass scheme, in direct defiance of the high court’s verdict. They were led by then-Sen. Alan Peter Cayetano. Cayetano ironically is now the House Speaker, thanks to a bizarre term-sharing scheme.
The brazen nine were eventually joined by the entire Senate in moving the insertions bypass forward. The chamber at the time included in its membership Senator Lacson.
Did Senator Lacson move at the time to stop the Senate insertions? No, he did not.