Senator Panfilo "Ping" Lacson on Thursday said that he is considering questioning the 2017 national budget of Php 3.35 trillion before the Supreme Court (SC), insisting the allocation still contained pork barrel.
To recall, pork barrel or priority development assistance fund (PDAF) was declared as unconstitutional by the SC in 2013.
Lacson found it suspicious that the budget included a Php 3.6 billion allocation for the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) to implement projects within the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (ARMM).
He explained that this was a violation of the Organic Act of the ARMM because the region had "autonomy" to implement its own projects.
The Php 3.6-billion allocation is part of the Php 8.3 billion earmarked for the DPWH to use for the ARMM.
Lacson, however, succeeded in convincing his colleagues to deduct Php 4.7 billion from the Php 8.3 allocation to instead use for state-owned universities and colleges (SUCs).
The remaining Php 3.6 billion allocation, meanwhile, would still be used by the DPWH to implement projects for the ARMM. Both upper and lower chambers later ratified the 2017 national budget which included that insertion.
Lacson, aside from Sen. Sherwin "Win" Gatchalian, were the only two senators who voted against the ratification of the budget while 17 other senators voted for it.
After ratification, the 2017 national budget will be sent to Pres. Rodrigo Duterte for signing.
"We were able to identify most of the insertions, most of the pork allocations in the 2017 budget. But nobody will admit it. When you look at the budget book, you won't see it because the pork allocations are inserted and craftily hidden in many agencies," Lacson said.
Davao City Rep. Karlo Nograles, Chair of the House Committee on Appropriations, earlier insisted that the allocation was not pork barrel but line items.
"That's not pork because that's line item identified through the medium term development plan by National Economic Development Authority (NEDA)," Nograles said, noting Lacson had a different interpretation.
Lacson was still determined to question the provisions in the budget noting that any taxpayer, himself included, was allowed to do so.
He stressed that his questioning of the budget would also test the political will of Pres. Duterte, who has openly stressed his desire to rid the government of corruption.
"This is the best test as far as I'm concerned to that he is really against corruption. I want to test if the President would allow pork barrel which would eventually make government projects suffer," Lacson said.
He explained that the 2017 national budget is the only piece of legislation the President is authorized to do line-item veto.
The senator further said that he would also want to informally discuss the budget with Pres. Duterte if given a chance noting that the Senate always acted as a collegial body.
"For me to formally write the president, would seem like an insult. But given the chance in an informal conversation I'm willing to bring all the materials and present to him if there's a chance," he added.
Source: Philippines News Agency