Sen. Panfilo Lacson said he might go to the Supreme Court to question pork insertions in the just ratified P3.3-trillion national budget for 2017 but his move would depend on whether President Duterte vetoes the budget measure.
“I want to see this as a test of the political will of the President. He always says that corruption must stop. And this is the best test as far as I am concerned to show he does not want corruption,” Lacson said on Thursday.
He said the President was allowed to choose what he wanted to veto in the budget bill as he had the power to review it.
Pork barrel funds, earlier called Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) and Countrywide Development Fund, were items in the General Appropriations Act that used to finance pet projects of members of the Senate and House of Representatives.
Before the Supreme Court declared the PDAF unconstitutional in November 2013, a senator was allocated annually P200 million in PDAF and a representative, P70 million.
Lacson said there was no basis yet to file a petition in the high court because Mr. Duterte had yet to sign the budget bill into law. The President is expected to sign it on Dec. 22.
“Given the chance, I want to discuss this with the President and point out the specific provisions that need to be reviewed and thoroughly studied and even vetoed,” he added.
Lacson and Sen. Sherwin Gatchalian on Dec. 14 voted against the Senate ratification of the reconciled budget measure, which was approved after 17 senators voted for it.
The two senators cast a dissenting vote due to their belief that there were pork barrel allocations in the first budget of the Duterte administration.
Majority Leader Vicente Sotto III abstained, as he too shared the view that the 2017 national budget had pork barrel allocations.
At a forum in the Senate, Lacson insisted the pork barrel insertions ran into hundreds of billions in pesos “parked” in the budgets of the departments of public works and highways, social welfare and development, education and health.
It was, he said, a case of “win some, lose some” during the budget deliberations because he was not able to remove all the pork barrel insertions during the bicameral conference committee meetings.
Lacson and the Senate panel tasked with reconciling the budget measure with the House panel were able to reallocate P8.3 billion, originally assigned by the House to the public works department for development projects in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM).
He questioned why the P8.3 billion was taken out of the ARMM budget and transferred to the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) for the implementation of the projects, as this violated the ARMM Organic Act.
Lacson said during the bicameral talks, some congressmen talked to him for the money to be returned to the DPWH but he did not give in.
In the end, the House panel agreed to the Senate proposal to reallocate the P8.3 billion to the Commission on Higher Education so it could be used to subsidize the education of poor but deserving students enrolled in state universities and colleges.
This paved the way for the bicameral committee to conclude its talks on the budget and thus, seek its ratification in their chambers.
“So, my attitude is win some, lose some. I cannot have it all,” Lacson said, adding he was unable to remove P3.6 billion that was lodged in the budget of the DPWH but to be implemented in the ARMM.
The senator earlier said the P3.6 billion could be part of the pork insertions.
He said he no longer insisted on its removal because this would further stall the bicameral talks and he did not want the government ending up with a reenacted budget for next year.
Hidden in many agencies
Aside from the P8.3 billion and P3.6 billion, there were other items in the budget that his team was able to identify as pork insertions, Lacson said.
“You cannot see it with a naked eye when you look at the budget book. It cannot be seen because the pork allocations are inserted craftily and hidden in many agencies. But we were able to spot most of them,” he said.
Lacson said he saw the “pro forma list” submitted by congressmen and there were items there that were pork allocations.
Asked whether fellow senators have their own pork insertions there, Lacson said he did not bother looking into them as this might be “offensive.”