By Daniel Llanto i FilAm Star Correspondent
Chances are the national government would be operating on the re-enacted 2018 budget until the third quarter of this year since the general appropriations bill for 2019 is still mired in controversy with Senate leaders now accusing Speaker Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo of unlawfully funneling nearly PHP 95 billion in infrastructure funds to favored congressmen.
“Arroyo surreptitiously inserted the funds for the districts of her allies in the House after Congress ratified the final version of the PHP 3.8-trillion budget for 2019, Sen. Panfilo Lacson claimed on March 10.
“All indications point to a re-enacted budget up to July or August this year when Arroyo is no longer Speaker,” Sen. Panfilo Lacson said, claiming that Arroyo made the illegal budget insertions after Congress had ratified the final version of the PHP 3.8 trillion budget for 2019.
Lacson said the funds were taken from the approved budget for road projects of the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) and for the construction of health centers under the Department of Health (DoH).
Lacson said at least PHP 79.7 billion in DPWH funds, the bulk of which was classified under the department’s “major final output,” was re-aligned to the former president’s known allies in the House for projects they themselves had arbitrarily identified.
Another PHP 15.1 billion earmarked for the Health Facilities Enhancement Program of the DoH was also given to Arroyo’s favored congressmen, Lacson said.
Senate President Vicente Sotto III also said at least PHP 79 billion worth of projects in the Congress-ratified 2019 national budget have been manipulated by some members of the House of Representatives.
With the Senate and House of Representatives digging in for further confrontation over this year’s annual appropriation, President Duterte warned that “everyone will suffer” if the government continues to operate on a re-enacted budget.
Even as Duterte prodded Congress on the PHP 3.7-trillion outlay, he also said he would not sign an “illegal document.”
“We will have a slide in the GDP if we are going to re-enact the budget.
Everyone will suffer including our law enforcement,” Duterte said during the awarding of outstanding female uniformed and civilian employees at Malacañang on Monday.
Lacson agreed that operating on a re-enacted budget would certainly affect the country’s growth. “The PHP 79.7 billion is the amount that they transferred or re-aligned from some districts to other districts, or from some of the 62 congressmen to the others allied with the Speaker,” Lacson said.
“As I said, the total amount of projects arbitrarily identified by legislators is about P95 billion, which may be classified as pork,” he added.
Lacson said Arroyo’s acts clearly violated the 2013 Supreme Court ruling that struck down as unconstitutional the pork barrel system and the lump-sum appropriations for lawmakers.
Lacson said Arroyo’s arbitrariness in making changes in the national budget might delay President Duterte’s signing of the spending measure for 2019 until she relinquished her post after mid-term elections in May.
Arroyo is serving her third and last term as representative of Pampanga’s second congressional district.
“Unless Arroyo agrees that the ratified bicameral report will no longer be altered or amended … the Senate will stand its ground and adhere to the standard legislative process and what the Constitution so provides,” Lacson added.
As he had previously pointed out, Lacson reiterated that Section 26, Article IV of the 1987 Constitution explicitly mandates that “upon the last reading of a bill, no further amendment shall be allowed.”
In a radio interview, Lacson said the senators would ask the President himself to intervene and immediately end the stalemate between the House and the Senate on the national budget.
He also said Sotto had spoken with the President about the matter during the state dinner Malacañang hosted for visiting Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad.
During their conversation, Lacson said the Senate President confided to Duterte his reservations about signing the approved budget measure after the House leadership admitted to tinkering with the documents.