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Senator Francis Escudero on Tuesday denied that the 2015 proposed national budget is riddled with "pork," assuring the public that the “lump sum” funds in the measure will not be a source of corruption.
In an interview with reporters, Escudero said they included a provision in next year’s budget requiring agencies to submit an itemized list of where they would use the funds before releasing it to them and a penalty for those who will not comply with it.
“We required agencies to submit an itemized listing bago nila ma-release yung lump sums. So temporarily lump sum lang yun. Bago nila magamit kailangan nila mag-submit ng listing sa Kongreso, sa House of Representatives at Senate, at sa COA (Commission on Audit),” said Escudero, chair of the Senate finance committee.
“For example, may lump sum sa school building program, hindi naman sila pwedeng magpa-bid ng P100 million na school building na walang pangalan at hindi alam kung saan lugar at kung ilang room. Ginawa na din namin yan nung 2014 pero hindi sinunod, so lalagyan na namin ng penal clause ngayon para sumunod,” he added.
At the same time, Escudero said asking lawmakers to give a list of their projects prior to the enactment of the budget is also not illegal.
“Akala ko ba gusto nila ng power of the purse sa Congress? Nag-identify ang legislator, they exercise their power of the purse, bawal? Supreme Court said post-enactment intervention ang bawal. So nagbubudget deliberations ngayon, ang mga congressman nag-identify, hindi pwede? Ano ang gusto nilang gawin namin, pag nagsubmit ng budget si (Budget Secretary) Butch Abad hindi namin pwede galawin?” he said.
He said giving proposals or amendments to the budget is not tantamount to pork barrel.
“It’s a pre-enactment intervention, not post-enactment. It’s well within the purview of what the Supreme Court allows in their definition of pork barrel and that’s what the House did,” he said.
“In November 2013, the Supreme Court declared the priority development assistance fund (PDAF) as unconstitutional because it “allowed legislators to wield, in varying gradiations, non-oversight, post-enactment authority in vital areas of budget executions (thus violating) the principle of separation of powers.”
The SC also said the pork barrel system creates a system of budgeting in which items are not “textualized into appropriations bill,” which “flouts the prescribed power of presentment and in the process denies the President the power to veto items.”
On Monday, Senator Miriam Defensor Santiago criticized the 2015 proposed budget for being unconstitutional. She called on her colleagues to reject the House-introduced redefinition of “savings” that funds can be declared as such at any time.
For his part, Escudero said the Senate version of the definition of savings is better than that of House as it states that the fund should have been “released” before it can be declared as such.
“Binigay ko na yung pera sa paggawa ng kalye, hindi mo na kaya gawin yung kalye, doon na magiging savings yun. It should first be released, we addressed that already but through a different mechanism. Nilagay pa nga namin doon, dapat yung pag discontinue ng project or inability to commence it, dapat through no fault of theirs. Let’s say nagdecision ang court, bawal na ang DAP so lahat ng DAP projects hindi na pwede tuloy, so hindi nila kasalanan yun,” he explained.
He, however, agreed with Santiago that there should be final determination that the fund could no longer be used before it can be declared as savings. — RSJ, GMA News