Budget debate

ACCUSING the senators of hiding pork barrel funds, a House leader yesterday challenged Senate President Vicente “Tito” Sotto III and Sen. Panfilo “Ping” Lacson to a debate aimed at promoting transparency in the budget process.

House senior Deputy Majority Leader and 1-Sagip party-list Rep. Rodante Marcoleta said the suggestion of the Senate to have lump sum funds in the 2019 P3.757-trillion national budget is a clear violation of the Supreme Court ruling against pork barrel funds.

“Mayroon ngang (pork ang Senate). Bakit hindi iyun ang unahin ni Sen. Lacson? Umpisahan natin, tanungin ko siya (Lacson), sa tingin mo ba walang pork ang mga kasama mo?” Marcoleta said.

“May itinatago siguro sila kaya ayaw nilang mag-itemize. Baka mapag-kumparahan kasi na kami sinusunod lang namin ang pangangailangan ng requirement ng appropriation para hindi mauwi sa pork. Para tanggalin namin ang isa sa kondisyon ng pork, aalisin ito sa pagiging lump sum. They should exercise legislative statesmanship,” Marcoleta pressed.

Marcoleta also lamented that Lacson failed to see the alleged pork barrel funds of his Senate colleagues.

“Si Sen. Lacson, kaibigan ko naman iyan, kung talagang ang crusade mo ay pork tumingin ka muna sa backyard mo. Hindi lang kami, maging consistent ka, alam mo rin naman iyun. Ayaw naman niyang diretsahin na maraming pork sa kanyang mga kasama, bakit hindi iyun ang una niyang tingnan?” Marcoleta asked, adding that the House leadership exercised line-item budgeting to ensure that it would not violate the SC order against pork barrel funds.

He asked Sotto to sign the national budget if he is indeed for transparency because the House of Representatives already itemized all the lump sum funds that were agreed during the bicameral conference committee.

Marcoleta also scored Sotto for his claim that the national budget is unconstitutional when he allegedly failed to cite specific provision in the Constitution for violation.

“They cannot even pinpoint to us any provision why it became unconstitutional. Iyung sa kanila (senators) kumpara sa amin ay puro lump sum ang sa kanila. Kami facts and evidence na itemized,” he said.

Camarines Sur Rep. Rolando “Nonoy” Andaya Jr., who chairs the House committee on Appropriations, welcomed the proposal for a special session, but rejected the Senate’s proposal to maintain lump sum funds in the national budget.

“We welcome any effort to break the budget impasse. But the House position is clear: we will not agree to the Senate’s stand that we return to the old mode of lump sum budgeting. The House remains steadfast in its mission of itemizing all lump sum funds in the 2019 General Appropriations Bill. Our lines remain open for a dialogue with the Senate. Set the date and place, we will be there,” said Andaya.

“It pains me to hear that our senators are standing pat on their decision to go back to lump-sum budgeting rather than adopting the more transparent line-item budgeting for the 2019 General Appropriations Bill (GAB),” Andaya added.

House Deputy Minority Leader and COOP-NATCCO party-list Rep. Anthony Bravo advised Sotto and Lacson to stop acting as lawyers and refrain from concocting fabricated charges to put the House of Representatives in a bad light.

“Both Senators Sotto and Lacson are now confused with their roles. They have stopped acting as legislators and now want to assume the role of lawyers for the Senate,” said Bravo.

Although he is not a lawyer himself, Bravo finds it amusing that an actor-comedian and a former police general have the temerity to accuse House leaders in charge of budget legislation of resorting to criminal acts in passing the 2019 General Appropriations Bill (GAB).

“May I remind Senators Sotto and Lacson, the House leaders who steered the approval of the 2019 GAA are mostly lawyers and accountants. These are all experts in all phases of the budget.