Congress realigns over P98 billion in 2019 budget

RG Cruz, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Feb 13 2019 04:28 PM | Updated as of Feb 13 2019 04:41 PM

MANILA - Congress realigned some P98 billion in funds when it approved the P3.75-trillion national budget for 2019 last week.

The amount includes the controversial P75-billion insertion made by the Department of Budget and Management into the public works budget, a copy of the bicameral conference committee report ratified by both the House of Representatives and the Senate showed.

The 2019 General Appropriations Bill hurdled both the House of Representatives and the Senate a day before Congress went on a break last Feb. 9.

House lawmakers confirmed last week that the P75-billion insertion has been dispensed with and realigned to other items. 

House Appropriations Committee Chairman Rolando Andaya Jr's office said the P75-billion was among the funds pooled from which the bicameral conference committee funded realignments to new items worth P98 billion. 

“No, there is no P75-billion insertion to talk about this point in time," Andaya said.

The Department of Public Works and Highways, the intended recipient of the alleged insertion, still got the biggest cut of realigned funds with P46.35 billion.

The agencies that received additional funding from the panel were as follows:

  • Congress of the Philippines- P1.75 billion 
  • Office of the Vice President- P215.7 million
  • Department of Agriculture- P485.5 million
  • Department of Education- P2.5 billion
  • State Universities and Colleges- P2.8 billion
  • epartment of Energy- P110.27 million
  • Department of Environment and Natural Resources- P42.35 million
  • Department of Finance- P200 million
  • Department of Foreign Affairs- P644.78 million
  • Department of Health- P17.57 billion
  • Department of Information and Communications Technology
    - P2.04 billion
  • Department of the Interior and Local Government- P1.7 billion
  • Department of Justice- P1.3 billion
  • Department of Labor and Employment- P2.6 billion
  • Department of National Defense- P3.098 billion
  • Department of Science and Technology- P450.25 million
  • Department of Transportation- P38 million
  • Department of Trade and Industry- P1.499 billion
  • Budgetary Support to Government Corporations- P1.75 billion
  • Allocations to Local Government Units: P1.2 billion
  • 21. Commission on Human Rights: P139.3 million
  • 22. Office of the Ombudsman- P1.8 billion
  • 23. Commission on Elections- P58.8 million
  • 24. Commission on Audit- P732 million
  • 25. Civil Service Commission- P145.86 million
  • 26. Judiciary- P2.1 billion
  • 27. Presidential Communications Group- P38.7 million

The House Appropriations Committee has yet to make public its itemized list of approved projects for each lawmaker. 

The budget process for 2019 had been delayed by wrangling among lawmakers and the budget department over some P75 billion worth of insertions or projects outside of the original agency proposals.

Lawmakers realigned these funds to other projects since the inserted projects were supposedly unvetted and the money was not equitably distributed to the concerns of all lawmakers. 

Andaya had said as much as P125 billion of the budget ended up as pork barrel of lawmakers. He added that no lawmaker got zero funding in the 2019 budget.

Some lawmakers, however, are not yet sure which of their projects made the final cut and got funded in the approved budget.

Marikina Rep. Bayani Fernando told ABS-CBN News he was still checking which of his requests for funding were approved even as he dismissed criticism about legislators receiving discretionary funds in the 2019 budget. 

“I could not say that I'm happy or not, I still have to know the final outcome of these things," he said.

"Nawawala pa 'yung mga ibang requests ko, wala pa kaming natatanggap na ano pa man. We’re all at a loss,” he added.

(My other requests are still missing. We haven't received anything yet.)

House Speaker Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, meanwhile, left the matter of addressing the critics to those who crafted the budget. 

"Let the ones who put it together address the criticism,” she said.

On Wednesday, Budget Secretary Benjamin Diokno assured the public that President Rodrigo Duterte would approve the country's 2019 budget before the end of the first quarter.

Sen. Panfilo Lacson, who has been waging a crusade against pork barrel funds, had said in a privilege speech last week that the controversial P75-billion insertion had been reprogrammed into funding for lawmakers. 

He said 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. 

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.