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READ: Mas nagmamantika! Ping Lacson’s privilege speech in 2019 national budget’s pork insertions

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Mr. President, I rise before you on a matter of personal and collective privilege.

“To See No Evil, Hear No Evil, Speak No Evil”

Mr. President, put literally, this proverbial adage serves as an age-old directive for dealing with impropriety — by looking the other way, refusing to hear and speak out, and feigning ignorance when something wrong is unfolding.

To abide by this rule can only worsen the people’s lives in ways we could hardly imagine.

Mr. President, in all my years as a member of this institution, I have been at odds with an ‘evil’ called pork and all that it represents.

Between you and me, I could have easily turned a blind eye, willfully shut my ears, and stayed silent as a grave. That would have made my life more simple, peaceful, and probably very prosperous and enjoyable.

However, Mr. President, to see no evil, hear no evil, and speak no evil to a system as grim as the undead pork barrel, no matter how much self-aggrandizement it offers, goes against my compunction and self-respect.

As the abolished “pork barrel” shows itself anew, dynamic and changeable; resounds in the halls of our country’s legislature; and speaks of the insatiability of corruption, how can one, in good conscience, not see, hear, and speak of it?

Mr. President, with your indulgence, let me detail to you what I view as a pork-ridden, cholesterol-rich 2019 budget, particularly those lodged in the budget of the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH).

Mr. President, the Development Budget Coordination Committee (DBCC) set a P480-billion budget ceiling for the DPWH, even as the agency asked the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) for consideration of the agency budget of P651 billion. The National Expenditure Program (NEP), meanwhile, proposed a P555-billion budget for the DPWH.

It takes basic arithmetic to know that there is a difference of 75 billion pesos between the DBCC’s budget ceiling and that of the NEP’s — such an exorbitant additional amount unrecognized by the DPWH secretary and known to him only upon the release of the NEP, and which the DBM secretary simply refers to as “adjustment.”

Just very recently, during last Wednesday evening’s caucus to be exact, a valid source had a word in our ears that the 75 billion pesos had been earlier peddled to contractors across the country, region by region, at a 20% commission per project cost. That would be a sum of 15 billion pesos worth of taxpayers’ money to the pockets of its proponents and cohorts. Records would reveal later, as we discovered during our diligent scrutiny of the proposed budget, that 11 billion pesos out of the P75 billion was actually under Automatic Appropriations, specifically the notoriously corrupt Motor Vehicle User Charge (MVUC).

Albeit rather vaguely, then House Majority Leader Rolando Andaya made public under whose discretion and to which projects the 75 billion pesos was allotted. Congressman Andaya asserted that many of his colleagues in the House of Representatives formerly aligned with then Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez, “including some senators” (his words, not mine), were the proponents and beneficiaries of the P75 billion “insertion or adjustment” made by the DBM even when it was still under the National Expenditure Program.

Hence, when the new leadership of the House of Representatives took over last July, in defiance of the established time-honored parliamentary rules, they disregarded their budget’s plenary approval on second reading, formed a small group committee, and mangled beyond recognition the DPWH-proposed budget, specifically those projects that they believed were part of the P75 billion.

Simply put, the apparent pork insertions from the alleged connivance of the DBM and the old leadership of the House of Representatives were deliberately reallocated by the newly-assumed leadership as their own pork barrel.

Mr. President, kanya-kanyang sipag at kayod sa paglilipat-lipat ng alokasyon sa “pork,” pero iisa pa rin ang patutunguhan – sa kani-kanilang mga “baboy kural.”

How the 75 billion pesos transmogrified into pork of unconscionable form is mind-boggling. Hence, in the interest of our people, I reconstructed the trail to where the “pork” leads.

Mr. President, with your indulgence, let me reiterate our discovery:

We start off with the 51.792 billion-peso budget, which was allegedly a big chunk of the 75 Billion-peso budget inserted or amended by the House of Representatives. Of this amount, 20 billion pesos was distributed equally among the almost 300 congressmen, which translates into P60 million per congressman plus additional allocations to those close to the leadership of the House of Representatives. These are all embodied in the General Appropriations Bill (GAB) or the House version transmitted to the Senate.

Let me emphasize, however, that while the present leadership of the House of Representatives distributed P60 million per congressman from that P51.792 billion, each congressman has already a minimum allocation of P100 million under the NEP. With the new House of Representatives’ leadership distributing P60 million more to each congressman, the total new ‘standard’ reinvented pork per congressman is now a staggering 160 million pesos, thus creating a “NEW NORMAL” in the pork barrel system. With such amount of money, I do not need all of my brain’s frontal lobe to get what is at stake for some designated ‘talking heads’ from the House of Representatives leadership to take turns in vilifying my reputation, even ascribing ill motive to my intentions.

Kung ating susumahin, halos pantay-pantay ang partihan sa nakitang “pork.” Hindi ba nakapagtataka na pare-pareho ang alokasyon sa bawat distrito – malaki man o maliit, mahirap man o mayaman – at walang pinagbatayan kung hindi ang diskarte ng liderato ng Kongreso sa pamamahagi ng budget?

This observation, Mr. President, is not new as the Supreme Court itself observed in the PDAF case that, and I quote: “the gauge of PDAF and CDF allocation and/or division is based solely on the fact of office, without taking into account the specific interests and peculiarities of the district the legislator represents. In this regard, the allocation and/or division limits are clearly not based on genuine parameters of equality, wherein economic or geographic indicators have been taken into consideration.”

Allowing legislators to identify projects of their discretion is unnerving. We dare ask: Is it not tantamount to the very definition of pork barrel where appropriations of public funds are arbitrarily identified by legislators for pet projects that serve the interests of local districts they represent?

Going back to this 51.792 billion-peso chunk of the now infamous P75-billion “Diokno insertion,” what was left after the distribution of P60 million per congressman was P31.792 billion pesos, which were lodged in different government agencies and programs, to name a few, to the Local Government Support Fund, to the NDRRMF, DOLE, DSWD, DOH, and finally, to DPWH, which retained a mere 7 billion pesos.

Mr. President, what is most appalling on this tale of horror was the allocation for farm-to-market road projects that significantly bloated from the NEP to the House Version.

If we look at the cursory level, there is a net increase from the NEP allocation for farm-to-market road projects to GAB of just 1.7 billion pesos. However, as often said that the devil is in the details, our scrutiny of the farm-to-market road projects under the GAB reveals that the new leadership of the House of Representatives shuffled some budget items resulting in 6.1 billion pesos of new farm-to-market road projects. Needless to say, these excessive reallocation and insertions are mere transfer of ‘farm-to-pocket roads’ from some congressmen’s pockets to the others. To sum it up in one phrase: from farm-to-market, to farm-to-pocket, to pocket-to-pocket.

Random sampling of local districts proves us right: in the 2nd legislative district of Pampanga, there are only five FMR projects worth P35 million under the NEP, but, lo and behold, it increased to 76 FMR projects amounting to P606 million under the House version, and which is now part of the bicameral committee report that we are about to vote on to ratify. Another remarkable example is the first district of Surigao, which budget for FMR projects ballooned to P283 million under the House version from zero FMR budget under the NEP.

Maitanong ko lang: Ilan po ba ang mga gulayan at palayan sa 2nd legislative district ng Pampanga, at ilan naman kaya ang pamilihang bayan sa naturang distrito para magtamasa ng katakot-takot na farm-to-market road projects?

Mr. President, there is no sense of propriety in partaking in unconstitutional “pork” allocations. What is worse than this is taking more slabs of “pork” by merit of power. Humor me, the much publicized rift among the members of the House of Representatives unlikely grew from “inequitable” pork allocations perpetrated by those in the higher ranks.

Mr. President, is it not logical, conscionable, and self-redeeming that we, members of the legislative branch, present a united front against the evil reincarnate that is called pork?

Mr. President, we have heard disturbing revelations from the House of Representatives and in this very hall during the 2019 budget floor deliberations pertaining to the 75 billion pesos’ worth of projects of some legislators and other government officials allegedly inserted into the original P480-billion submission of the DPWH without its knowledge. In light of this, we asked the DPWH to submit to us a list of projects that are part of their original submission of P480 billion. On January 15, 2019, the DPWH, with clear conscience on the “Diokno adjustment,” did submit the list of projects to the Chair of the Committee on Finance and copy furnished my office.

It consists of line-item infrastructure projects worth 465.510 billion pesos. Pray tell, what does the difference between P480 billion and P465 billion suggest to us?

Once and for all, to eviscerate all pork allocations introduced in the 2019 DPWH budget, we proposed during the period of amendments, that the Senate adopt the DPWH original submission of 465.510 billion-peso budget, exclusive of the 11 billion peso automatic appropriations, as the agency’s budget for 2019. With the amendment, we were able to create a fiscal space of P50.957 billion.

In addition, as the DPWH conceded during my interpellations that they still have enough budget for Right-of-Way (ROW) Acquisitions and would not need the full amount of P28.889 Billion under the proposed 2019 Budget, hence they offered and we proposed to reduce their ROW budget by P8.889 billion.

Thus, of the P60.937-billion total decrease made in the DPWH budget during the second reading of the Senate version, the 59.7 billion pesos came from the above-mentioned amendments made by this Representation.

Unfortunately, Mr. President, the net change in the second reading version of the Senate for the DPWH budget is only P37.650 billion. This is because P23.286 billion worth of new projects were introduced in the DPWH budget during the second reading of the Senate version.

Now here lies the problem, Mr. President.

Mr. President, currently, this Chamber has only 23 senators. To a suspicious public, we could all be complicit in introducing our own pork to the budget of the DPWH. If split up in metaphoric “hating-kapatid,” this will amount to more than P1 billion per senator. But since I am absolutely sure that I have not availed of any portion of the P23.2 billion, and I have knowledge that quite a number of our colleagues likewise did not partake of whatever slice there was from that P23.2-billion “pizza pie,” ergo, some members of this chamber must be smarter and luckier than the others. As to the recent claim of Congressman Andaya about the P3-billion pork allocation per senator, huwag po natin siyang paniwalaan dahil sadyang napakalayo sa katotohanan ang kanyang komputasyon.

In passing, insertions in the DPWH is only part and parcel of the bigger picture. In fact, a perusal of the Senate version will show us new projects whose proponents are easily identifiable, and which intentions are ludicrous. The illustrative sample shown herein which reads, “Additional Funding for Fuel Allocation and Intelligence Fund for the Province of xxxxx,” (deletion mine, Mr. President) with 50-million peso appropriations lodged in the PNP/DILG budget, if released, it is surely a winning candidate for COA “red flag” for several reasons:

First, accounting rules differ for Intelligence Funds and Regular Funds such as fuel allocation;

Second, under the enumerated Object of Expenditures of the Philippine National Police, there is no such item that corresponds to “fuel allocation and intelligence fund”;

Third, the release of intelligence fund is subject to the approval of the President, as stipulated under COA-DBM-DILG-GCG-DND Joint Circular No. 2015-01; and

Finally, it raises policy questions on the use and utilization of intelligence funds.

Mr. President, the very intent of my amendments was to cleanse the DPWH budget of the stains of pork. Unwittingly, my amendment created a fiscal opportunity for some. And along with that, the Senate lost its opportunity to take the moral high ground. With a heavy heart, I submit that neither House has moral ascendancy over the other.

The DPWH budget has been a traditional prey to swine rushing to get more slabs of “pork” more than they can consume. But other agencies and budget items are not spared from the evils of pork.

Mr. President, let me briefly discuss the equally compelling reasons of my dissent and disgust:

During the interpellations on the proposed 2019 budget, we showed photos, and even official communications from universities that prove how certain legislators actively participate in the implementation of the Tulong Dunong Program. Legislators utilize this program to further their brand of patronage politics and refuse to delete the same even when it had become redundant and superfluous due to the passage of the more comprehensive and inclusive Universal Access to Quality Tertiary Education Act.

Mr. President, for two years now, we have been seeking the transfer of the allocation for the Tulong Dunong Program to the Universal Access to Quality Tertiary Education. For the 2018 budget, our proposal was flatly rejected. For this year, the Chairperson of the Finance Committee agreed with our proposition during the budget deliberations. However, when the second reading was up for approval, Tulong Dunong program has been retained.

Mr. President, we did not seek for the reduction of the budget for education. What we are up against is the use of a program as a source of pork for legislators and to advance patronage politics. Tulong Dunong program is nothing but a pork masquerading as a scholarship program.

In characterizing pork barrel, some legislators often hurl at us the definition stated in the Supreme Court’s Belgica vs. Executive Secretary ruling that, and I quote: “the defining feature of all forms of Congressional Pork Barrel would be the authority of legislators to participate in the post-enactment phases of project implementation.”

In an attempt not only to circumvent the law but even to mislead the public, some legislators would argue the Belgica ruling states that pork barrel is unconstitutional only insofar as it confers post-enactment identification authority to members of Congress.

However, I would like to over-emphasize the Belgica ruling, which defines, among others, the acts that are deemed unconstitutional, and I quote:

“(d) all informal practices of similar import and effect, which the Court similarly deems to be acts of grave abuse of discretion amounting to lack or excess of jurisdiction; xxx”

Mr. President, by subjecting a government program such as Tulong Dunong to informal practices such as implementation by legislators, we condone acts of grave abuse of discretion and puts the integrity of the program in question.

Mr. President, during the budget interpellations, I raised the exponential increase in the allocation for Other Financial Assistance to Local Government Units-Local Government Support Fund, under the Allocations to Local Government Units (ALGU), from P7 billion to P16 billion. The DBM, as the one managing the fund, explained, through the Finance Committee Chairperson, that they were not consulted with the increase nor did they have a list of municipalities for whom the amount will be allocated. In the same vein, the DILG, the Department of Interior and Local Government, expressed that they have no knowledge or participation in the implementation of the fund.

Mr. President, without consultation and a list of LGUs, the 7-plus-9-billion increase under the Other Financial Assistance to Local Government Units is a lump sum appropriation. For those reasons, I moved to revert the allocation for Other Financial Assistance to Local Government Units to its NEP level of 7 billion pesos, or a reduction of 9 billion pesos.

However, Mr. President, to my dismay, in the second reading version of the Senate, only 8.132 billion pesos was deducted. This means that the Senate version introduced additional 917 million pesos to the original allocation of P7 billion for this fund.

The Supreme Court, in Belgica ruling states, and I quote: “What beckons constitutional infirmity are appropriations which merely provide for a singular lump-sum amount to be tapped as a source of funding for multiple purposes. ”

May I ask therefore, Mr. President, were the DBM and the DILG consulted when the Senate introduced the additional 917 million to Other Financial Assistance to Local Government Units? Is there a list of LGUs, and the corresponding projects, that will be funded by this 917 million pesos? If there is, why is it that it was not attached to the second reading version of the Senate? Hindi ko na lang itatanong kung sino na naman ang nagkaroon ng dagdag 917 million.

Mr. President, as I mentioned, the intent of reverting the allocation for Other Financial Assistance to Local Government Units to the NEP level of 7 billion pesos was that the increase was a lump sum appropriations, and that it is also to prevent the introduction of pork within the fund.

Mr. President, the scrutiny of the national budget is taxing and oftentimes frustrating, but I take on the job to rid of the budget with compulsive corruption.

The unconstitutional pork barrel falls under the Commission on Audit definition of unconscionable, irregular, excessive, extravagant, or unnecessary; an immoderate budget, and which no man in his right sense would make, nor a fair and honest man would accept as reasonable.

Mr. President, Representative Andaya, provided members of the Bicameral Conference Committee of House members’ allocations under the 2019 proposed budget. The amounts are revolting. The highest allocation amounted to 8.4 billion pesos and the lowest at 408 million pesos. The allocations for all 241 district representatives reached a staggering amount of 387.727 billion pesos. This is 13.4 percent of the P2.882 trillion new appropriations for 2019.

Looking back, when the Supreme Court ruled the pork barrel unconstitutional in 2013, the country heaved a sigh of relief. However, as today’s reality unfolds before us, we cannot deny that the ruling unintentionally resulted in unbridled pork consumption of legislators – from then estimated P70 million pork allocation per Congressman in 2003 to at least P408 million this year, if we go by the document shared by Cong. Andaya.

Mr. President, many would discredit my assertions on pork barrel insertions in both Houses. Thus, in the spirit of transparency and to dismiss any suspicion, I am forthright in making all my budget amendments available to public scrutiny. I pose a challenge to all lawmakers from both houses of Congress to henceforth do the same – own up to all our budget amendments. Let the people know. We all claim and boldly announce to all and sundry that all of our amendments are institutional and that we do not have pork insertions. Then let us put our money where our mouth is.

Mr. President, in this same hall, 16 years ago, on March 11, 2003, I delivered a scathing privilege speech unequivocally calling for the abolition of the pork barrel system that has marred our political institutions for decades. It fell on deaf ears until 2013 or 10 years later, when the controversial pork barrel scam involving Janet Lim-Napoles exploded right into our faces.

Mr. President, my esteemed colleagues, I wish to reiterate a statement I made in 2003 still fitting and applicable to this day: “There is no saying here that every senator or congressman is corrupt. It is only to say that we have all become suspect. The public has every basis and right to suspect. And we seem not to mind anymore.”

Today, pork barrel presents itself as an evil reincarnate, taunting and tempting us, hiding in the shroud of feigned public service. Pork proves that the irresistible lure of money moves men and women of power who should be the guardians of the public treasury, to devise cunning machinations to further their own selfish interests.

In response, I share my conviction that as long as I see and hear evil in all its transformations, I will be as consistent and passionate not only in speaking of it, but in fighting tooth and nail against its rebirth.

Thank you, Mr. President.

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