MANILA - Calling the new spending law "cholesterol-rich," Sen. Panfilo Lacson on Friday asserted that members of the House of Representatives had allocated for themselves P160 million in discretionary or "pork barrel" funds under the just ratified 2019 national budget.
In a privilege speech on the night Congress ratified the budget, Lacson said lawmakers in the lower chamber would each receive an additional P60 million in funds on top of their P100 million allocation under the National Expenditure Program (NEP).
Lacson said the additional allocation came from the excess P75 billion in proposed funding for the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH), which was allegedly inserted by Budget Secretary Benjamin Diokno in connivance with the former House leadership.
Lacson noted in his speech that the spending ceiling for the agency was at P480 billion, but the proposal under NEP was at P555 billion, higher by P75 billion.
Diokno has denied that the increase in the proposed DPWH funding was irregular.
Lacson, who has long waged a crusade against discretionary allocations in the national budget, said the funds were reallocated by the new House leadership.
"Simply put, the apparent pork insertions from the alleged connivance of the DBM and the old leadership of the House of Representatives were deliberately reallocated by the newly-assumed leadership as their own pork barrel," he said.
"With the new House of Representatives’ leadership distributing P60 million more to each congressman, the total new ‘standard’ reinvented pork per congressman is now a staggering P160 million, thus creating a 'NEW NORMAL' in the pork barrel system," he said.
The "pork barrel" system in Congress, which was institutionalized through the Priority Development Assistance Fund, was abolished in late 2013 when the Supreme Court declared it unconstitutional.
This followed the bust of the multibillion-peso pork barrel scam, where lawmakers allegedly connived with businesswoman Janet Lim Napoles and her associates to divert discretionary funds to bogus non-government organizations, in the end purportedly taking the amounts for themselves.
Several plunder and graft cases are pending at the Sandiganbayan stemming from the controversy.
Per Lacson's narration, 'pork' under the 2019 budget came about after House members allegedly reallocated the controversial P75-billion insertion.
"Mr. President, kaniya-kaniyang sipag at kayod sa paglilipat-lipat ng alokasyon sa “pork,” pero iisa pa rin ang patutunguhan – sa kani-kanilang mga “baboy kural,” he said.
(Mr. President, they each exerted diligence to make the allocations, but all are going to one direction - their own pork barrel.)
House Appropriations Committee Chairman Rolando Andaya Jr., in a press briefing, said it was true that the insertions were made by the budget department and former House leadership, and that lawmakers reallocated the amount to "equitize" funding among districts.
"It’s true, that’s why we were forced to go into this very deep analysis of the budget, in which we uncovered wide disparities amongst the different districts. You had P8 billion on one hand, as small as P400 million on the other hand," he told reporters.
"We were seeking the help of DBM to guide us because they were the ones who actually put this in the net, and as we discovered later on inserted pala at 4 in the morning, ang nakakaalam lang ay low-ranking officials (only low-ranking officials knew about it). It was a Herculean task which we were able to finish."
Lacson earlier urged President Rodrigo Duterte to veto items that “look and smell” like pork barrel in the 2019 budget as he warned that some P160 million in allocations per House member were retained during a "small group" bicameral conference committee meeting late Wednesday.
Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon, meanwhile, said Duterte would most likely not use his line-item veto power to remove budget insertions by lawmakers even after Lacson urged him to do so.