SEN. Panfilo Lacson just can’t stop his unhealthy obsession with former President, now House Speaker Gloria Macapagal Arroyo.
He is damaging not only his prestige and credibility as the senator whose admirable crusade against the pork-barrel system started during the Cory Aquino administration.
Just to have a last pinch — the Pilipino word kurot is more precise — before Arroyo retires from Congress, Lacson is portraying the Senate and the House of Representatives as cheating gangs trying to hoodwink each other by changing the provisions of the budget bill they had already agreed on.
He claimed the other day, as the fanatic Arroyo-basher paper Philippine Daily Inquirer reported it, that the Speaker “unlawfully funneled nearly P95 billion in infrastructure funds to the districts of her allies in the House after Congress had ratified the final version of the P3.8-trillion budget for 2019.”
As that paper further quoted him, “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.”
That’s a classic straw-man argument, and the reality in the 2019 budget is in fact the opposite. The old pork-barrel system struck down by the Supreme Court referred to the practice of congressmen directing where government funds allocated by the budget are to be used. In the budget prepared by the Arroyo-led House, where and how these funds are to be used are listed in some detail.
Lacson’s claim is as patently absurd, as a claim, for instance, that the President signed a Congress bill that was changed without the House and the Senate’s express permission. The House and the Senate, after the bicameral committee on the budget signed off on it, approved on February 18 the budget bill to be submitted to President Duterte for signing into law.
What the House simply did, which Lacson misinterpreted — deliberately or not — was to itemize the 2019 allocation for the Health department’s Health Facilities Enhancement Program (HEEP). This in fact ensures that the districts requiring such facilities get the budget for their program. Such itemization in fact is a practice, after the bigger budget allocations are agreed upon, and the Senate itself recently gave the House such itemization for certain budgets.
Why is Lacson confusing the country on this crucial budget bill?
Is he still blaming Arroyo for Manila Regional Trial Court Judge Myra Garcia-Fernandez’s order to arrest him nine years ago for the November 2000 killings of publicist Salvador “Bubby” Dacer and his driver Emmanuel Corbito, which made him live the hard life of a fugitive for 15 months?
Indeed, Lacson, as Deputy Minority Leader and Coop-Natco party-list Rep. Anthony Bravo claimed on Monday, is “holding hostage” the proposed 2019 national budget because of his “personal vendetta” against Arroyo.
Or does Lacson simply want to discredit Arroyo in the eyes of President Duterte who has made her his key ally?
For whatever reason, the reality is that accusations such as that of Lacson’s could delay the approval of the 2019 budget, which normally should have been signed into law in November, for implementation last January. The Senate is a gang, which gives full play to a member’s concerns, even if false.
And if the 2019 budget is delayed, government would have to use the 2018 one, which of course doesn’t authorize the use of funds for such laws passed recently as those directing universal healthcare, subsidies to farmers under the Rice Tariffication Law, and increasing the capital of the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas.
In his allegations that the allocations for the HEEP were bigger for Arroyo’s allies, did he make a list of such “allies”? No. He just made a blanket assertion.
He probably saw a budget for several known Arroyo allies and jumped to the conclusion that all Arroyo allies got bigger budgets. Did he include as “GMA allies” such representatives as those from Mindanao, who are allies not just of Arroyo but Duterte?
Lacson also made last December a similar leap to a false conclusion, without providing data, just to blacken Arroyo’s reputation. He announced, also through his favorite newspaper the PDI, that the infrastructure allocations for the 2019 budget for Arroyo’s Pampanga congressional district are among the largest for 2019.
That was of course patently false, and the data to show that it is a canard was available to anybody wanting to see it. In terms of ranking by size of allocations for a congressman’s district, Arroyo’s is in the 100th slot in a list of 194 representatives.
I debunked Lacson’s claims and even presented data to show how relatively small the allocations were for Arroyo’s district (P1.4 billion) compared to those for the districts of 99 other congressman, among them Joey Salceda (P5.7 billion) and even anti-Duterte congressman Edcel Lagman (P3.5 billion).
Was Lacson man enough to admit he got his facts wrong, perhaps fed with wrong information by an overeager researcher, and which he was too busy to fact-check?
No. Lacson even had the gall to send a letter to this paper, signed by his incompetent media officer (since he must have felt that replying himself to a columnist was below his stature), published with the title “Senator Lacson seeks to set the record straight” (Dec. 22, 2018).
Did he present a list of allocations for each district to prove his allegation that Arroyo’s 2nd district of Pampanga had the biggest allocations in the 2019 budget?
No. He didn’t even touch on his allegations against Arroyo, and merely made the prose equivalent of mumbling generalities incomprehensible to readers, for example, that he merely “questioned not only the ballooning of allocations for infrastructure in some legislative districts, but also the Tulong Dunong program.. (blah-blah).”
In his letter Lacson claimed that “he already made clear he has made peace with Mrs. Arroyo, and that he has forgiven those who wronged him.”
That’s a bit hard to believe now, with his second false accusation against Arroyo in just a few months’ time.
Move on Senator Lacson. For the country’s sake.
Disclosure: I was Arroyo’s Presidential Spokesman and Chief of Staff from in the first half of her presidency, and then Ambassador to Greece and Cyprus from 2005 to 2010.