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Is the Senate, particularly Lacson, out to sabotage Duterte’s reform program?

I AM becoming convinced more and more that indeed the Yellows in the Senate, exploiting the chamber’s clubbish nature, are succeeding in sabotaging President Rodrigo Duterte’s reform momentum through its power over determining the national government’s budget.

After all of Sen. Panfilo Lacson’s blah-blahs, full of “pork” sound bites, but hardly any empirical proof, the Senate’s interference with the budget approved by the House of Representatives resulted in billions of pesos of funds for the President’s key programs being deleted from the budget for this year.

It is an indication of the Yellows’ hold on media that the statement the other day of Rep. Rolando Andaya Jr., chairman of the House committee that drafts the budget after its submission by the executive department, wasn’t reported at all, or was relegated to the inside pages. The Philippine Daily Inquirer, for example, reduced the issue of delays in the House’s approval to Lacson’s allegations that it was due to a feud between Andaya and his political rival in Camarines Sur, Luis Villafuerte.

The remnants of the Yellows haven’t given up, strategizing that sabotaging Duterte’s reforms at this stage would weaken him politically and thereby increase the opposition’s chances of recovering power in 2022.

Andaya’s press statement the other day explained how the budget has been mangled by the Senate. I am taking this unusual move to publish it in full, verbatim, although I have emphasized certain points through italics.

You decide if his allegations are accurate.

Andaya’s statement:
“The 2019 General Appropriations Bill [GAB] has been transmitted for the signature of President Duterte, and we expect it to be signed after the Office of the President has wrapped up its review of the veto message.

Blocking ‘Build, Build, Build’? Senate removes from budget P11.3B for right-of-way projects.

We respect the veto power of the President, and we are convinced that he will exercise such authority for the benefit of the nation and of our people. Nevertheless, we wish to clarify allegations from the Senate that the amendments introduced by the House of Representatives in the bicameral conference committee meetings were meant to debilitate the Executive Department in implementing the President’s priority programs and projects.

The House of Representatives never made a move to reduce the 2019 budget for infrastructure projects as appropriated in the National Expenditure Program.

In fact, the House introduced amendments increasing the budget for infrastructure projects without breaching the total amount pegged by the National Expenditure Program. This would allow the Executive Department to spur economic growth through increased public expenditure. We made sure, however, that such amendments will pass the test not only of constitutionality and legality, but also of transparency and accountability.

It is the Senate that may find itself liable to accusations of sabotage when it decided, unilaterally, to cut down the allocation for the President’s Build, Build, Build program and other priority projects. We are confident that the Office of the President would consider these items in their review and find ways on how to restore them in the President’s veto message.

The items taken out of the 2019 GAB by the Senate include, but not limited to, the following:

1. Department of Transportation — P5 billion for right-of-way projects

2. Department of Public Works and Highways — P11.033 billion for right-of-way projects

3. Foreign-assisted projects under DPWH — P2.5 billion

Depriving the government of funds for right-of-way and other infrastructure projects will surely hamper the implementation of the President’s Build, Build, Build program. Construction of priority projects, including mass transit and railway systems, will be mostly affected.

4. Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (Tesda) — P3 billion for scholarship of rebel returnees, out-of-school youths and rehabilitating drug dependents enrolled under the Universal Access to Tertiary Education. As a result, at least 320,000 students enrolled under the program will lose their scholarships this year.

5. Department of Environment and Natural Resources — P2.254 billion for National Greening Program, which resulted in 50 percent budget cut for all PENROs except Antique.

6. Department of Foreign Affairs — P7.5 billion budget for SEA Games taken out, but P5 billion transferred to the Philippine Sports Commission and P2.5 billion nowhere to be found.

7. Miscellaneous Personnel Benefit Fund — P13.4 billion. The MPBF is one of three sources of money paid to government personnel. The other two are the budgets lodged under each agency and the Pension and Gratuity Fund. Under Special Provision 1, the MPBF may be used for “deficiencies in authorized salaries, bonuses, allowances, associated premiums and other similar personnel benefits of national government personnel….”

8. Pension and Gratuity Fund — P39 billion. This fund covers the payment for the following:

• Pension of AFP retirees; war or military veterans of the DND; retired uniformed personnel of the DILG, PC-INP, NAMRIA and Philippine Coast Guard; and other retirees of the National Government.

• Retirement benefits for optional retirees of the National Government; retired personnel of GOCCs which are financially unable to pay said benefits; and personnel devolved to LGUs.

• Separation benefits or incentives of affected personnel pursuant to the implemention of: (i) restructuring of agencies affected by the integration and automation of the Budget Treasury and Management System and the operationalization of the Treasury Single Account; and (ii) rightsizing, merger, streamlining, abolition or privatization.

• Monetization of leave credits of National Government personnel and transferred leave credits of those devolved to the LGUs.

The details of these budget cuts were not fully discussed in the bicameral conference committee. The senators unilaterally decided on the budget cuts and realigned them with other items based on the request of individual proponents. Up to now, the Senate has yet to make public a detailed report on the proponents who recommended the individual realignments.”

I certainly hope Lacson replies to Andaya’s claim. I will publish his reply in my column — but only if he himself issues it, and not his incompetent yet arrogant office boy who always does the replying for him. Either Lacson is so insecure as to reply himself, or he thinks responding to columnists himself is beneath someone of his exalted stature.


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