SEN. Panfilo Lacson Jr. should stop picking on, practically stalking House Speaker Gloria Arroyo. He hurled the other day absurd and false accusations that infrastructure allocations for the 2019 budget for her Pampanga congressional district are among the largest for 2019. Lacson’s implicit unfair accusation is that in just six months after she became speaker, she was taking advantage of her post.
Lacson even made the accusations through media in a cheap, coy manner by not even mentioning Arroyo’s name, but referring to her as the “congresswoman” and listing the projects in Pampanga towns, which everyone knows she represents. That style of throwing dirt at someone one reads only in entertainment section gossip columns. It isn’t befitting a senator of the Republic. It’s a way of badmouthing somebody, but by hurling accusations one is not even sure of. Or just to throw dirt.
Lacson is lying through his teeth.
In terms of ranking by size of allocations for a congressman’s district, Arroyo is in the 100th slot in a list of 194 representatives. The National Expenditure Program (NEP), the executive branch’s proposal for the government budget to be approved by Congress, which was submitted by Budget Secretary Benjamin Diokno before she became speaker last July, allocated her district only P1.4 billion.
Davao del Norte’s 1st district represented by the speaker that Arroyo replaced, Pantaleon Alvarez, got the biggest infrastructure allocation of P8.4 billion, six times that of the Pampanga representative.The district of Alvarez’s then-top lieutenant, Rodolfo Fariñas was ranked 9th in that roster, and allocated P3.7 billion. That of Karlo Nograles, who left his House post last month to become President Duterte’s Cabinet Secretary had the 8th biggest, with an allotment of P4 billion.
Alvarez claims that he wasn’t aware of, much less asked for those allocations. “I have not attended a single budget hearing. I did not have anything to do with the NEP submitted to Congress,” Alvarez said.
While that defense may not seem so credible, Alvarez’ claim has also been that of a number of congressmen, who were surprised at, and professed no knowledge of the published reports on their districts’ allocation.
That bolsters allegations from sources in Congress who claim that it was solely the budget department who decided on those allotments, without even consulting the public works department nor the congressmen themselves. “Perhaps there’s a syndicate at the budget department that has in place in those districts their favored contractors to undertake those projects,” one angry congressman alleged. “From ‘pork barrel’ in the Aquino administration, it has become contractors’ barrel,” he quipped.
Another interpretation is that budget secretary Diokno deliberately increased allocations for all Davao districts to ingratiate himself with Alvarez (who was still speaker when the NEP was submitted) or with President Duterte himself.
The allotment for Arroyo’s district was increased to P1.9 billion during the House deliberations because of a request from the Department of Public Highways that flood control projects were urgently needed in her district. These were for the long-overdue flood control projects at Lubao and Sasmuan towns. These areas become flooded every rainy season when the Chico River overflows because the sections traversing those towns are heavily silted.
The DPWH had first proposed those projects a decade ago but had been ignored by the past Aquino administration in its petty tetchiness against Arroyo. The DPWH obviously realized that whether or not the towns are represented by Arroyo, it will be blamed for floods there every rainy season.
The other congressman Lacson accused of being among the “blessed few” whose district allegedly got big allocations, is House Majority Leader Rolando Andaya, Jr. He is however at the bottom of the barrel, ranked 191st in that list of 194 districts.
Guess the allocation for Andaya’s 1st district of Camarines Sur? A pathetic P862,000.
This is minuscule compared to the P3.5 billion allocated for the 1st district of Albay, which roughly has the same population and level of infra development as Andaya’s. That district has been represented since 2010 by the Yellow-Red congressman Edcel Lagman, who competes with communist party-list representatives in hurling vitriol against the current administration. The district which got the fourth largest infrastructure allocation under the 2019 budget is Albay’s 2nd district, represented by Joey Salceda, one of candidate Grace Poe’s biggest cheerleaders in the last presidential elections.
Why did Lacson pick on Andaya? Simply because Andaya is known to be Arroyo’s close ally, whom she picked as majority leader, and was her budget secretary from 2006 to the end of her term.
Why did Lacson pick on Arroyo and spread such lies?
Simply because he has never gotten over his hurt due to his belief that it was Arroyo who went after him — forcing him to live a fugitive’s life for more than a year — for the brutal killing in 2000 of publicist Bubby Dacer and his driver Emmanuel Corbito. Because of his bitterness against Arroyo, Lacson even became a big supporter of President Aquino 3rd, whose administration had very unjustly put Arroyo in jail for five, long years. Lacson even became Aquino’s presidential assistant for rehabilitation and recovery to oversee the reconstruction of the typhoon Yolanda-affected area. After Aquino stepped down from office, Lacson has claimed he was never given enough funds to do his job.
Lacson obviously is simply fuming over the political comeback of Arroyo. She assumed the powerful post of Speaker of the House of Representatives in July, and the Yellows’ colossal lies that demonized her have gradually been debunked. He can’t wait to hurl any stone he can find at her, even as she has barely warmed her seat. Shouldn’t our legislators let bygones be bygones and drop their petty hurts for the sake of the country?
A journalist’s disclosure: I was Arroyo’s spokesman and then chief of staff from 2001 to 2005, and I am certainly biased for the now House Speaker.
But facts are facts. The figures I have referred to are culleAd from the NEP submitted by Diokno which is a public document you can get from any of the 297 House representatives.
But it is also my having been in Arroyo’s government that I can say that during that time, there was a widespread belief that Lacson, then the national police chief, had merely followed President Estrada’s orders to liquidate Dacer, who was rumored to be double-crossing the former president and had linked him to the infamous BW Resources stock-market scam. Why blame Arroyo?
What Lacson should realize is that it was the Yellows in Arroyo’s government at the time — which became the so-called Hyatt 10 of Cabinet members who betrayed her and assumed ranking posts in the Aquino regime — who campaigned to pin him down for Dacer’s murder. Arroyo was a pragmatist, and certainly wasn’t keen on making enemies in those times when the popular Estrada’s forces were still powerful.
I suspect it was a former president — who had been close to Dacer, his longtime covert PR man — who pressured Arroyo’s justice department to prosecute Lacson. That president’s top sidekick was also Dacer’s close friend and province-mate.
Lacson though has found an accomplice in demonizing Arroyo: Budget Secretary Diokno who absurdly claimed the other day that the Speaker wants the job of finance secretary when she steps down from office next year. That is a cheap trick to get Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez, one of Duterte’s closest advisers, to defend him in the coming torrent of allegations against him over allegedly anomalous budget allocations.
Diokno indeed has a different motive more real than Lacson’s hurt that won’t heal. Diokno faces very serious accusations by Arroyo’s ally Andaya, who since he had been budget secretary under Arroyo for four years knows the ins and outs of the budget process and reportedly even has sources in the department leaking damning information to him.
Andaya alleges that Diokno shepherded billions of infrastructure funds towards an obscure firm his family has links to, which very strangely cornered in two years’ time billions of pesos worth of infrastructure contracts.
That is the bigger story, ironically unearthed as a result of Lacson’s huge lies. That subject will be for January.