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Lacson urges Duterte to veto pork items

Lacson hits back at Bravo for national budget amendments

Sen. Panfilo Lacson

An exasperated Sen. Panfilo Lacson is counting on President Rodrigo Duterte to make this year’s national budget pork-free, after conceding that legislators who insisted on keeping the draft P3.8-trillion spending bill larded with “insertions” are just “incorrigibly insatiable.”

“Mr. President, you have displayed your strong political will on several occasions,” Lacson tweeted on Tuesday, a day after Sen. Loren Legarda told her fellow senators that the House-Senate conference committee had agreed to end the two-month budget deadlock.

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“This time, use your line-item veto power over the 2019 appropriations measure by removing all the pork inserted by lawmakers who are incorrigibly insatiable and simply beyond redemption,” Lacson added.

Disdain for pork

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The President had openly shown his disdain for the graft-ridden pork barrel system, railing against it while campaigning for Malacañang in 2016.

Pork barrel, a spending program in the national budget that channels funds to lawmakers’ pet projects in their districts, is a source of kickbacks for them.

Several of the President’s political allies in the House of Representatives, led by Speaker Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, and even his alter ego, Budget Secretary Benjamin Diokno, have been accused of allocating pork, which the Supreme Court declared unconstitutional in 2013, in the wake of the P10-billion pork barrel scam allegedly masterminded by businesswoman Janet Lim-Napoles.

Citing the Constitution, Lacson said the President was authorized to “veto any particular item or items in an appropriation, revenue, or tariff bill, but the veto shall not affect the item or items to which he does not object.”

“The national budget is the lifeblood of our country. If we allow pork to ruin the budget, we taxpayers will suffer,” Lacson said.

“The national budget belongs to the people because it comes from taxpayer money. It is bad enough if the money is not used properly. It is much worse if the money is abused by those in government in the form of pork,” he said.

Sought for comment on Tuesday, Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea said it was up to the President to decide whether to use his veto power to rid the budget of pork.

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“Let us not preempt the President,” Medialdea said.

Legarda said the Senate and House panels on the budget conference committee would finalize the unified spending bill on Wednesday and that the measure would be ready for ratification by lawmakers on Friday, the last day of business for the 17th Congress.

Perusing the proposed 2019 budget submitted by the Department of Budget and Management, Lacson claimed that over P100 billion in pork were kept by unscrupulous lawmakers to bankroll their chosen projects in violation of the Supreme Court ruling.

Lump sums

He accused Arroyo of fattening the lump-sum allocations for each House member to up to P160 billion, triggering a verbal tussle with the former President’s subordinates in the 292-member chamber.

Lacson said even his fellow senators also placed pork in the form of “individual amendments” and “insertions” amounting to P23 billion in infrastructure projects.

The quarrel over cleaning up the budget delayed approval of the 2019 spending bill, forcing reenactment of the P3.8-trillion 2018 budget to enable the government to operate.

At one point during the exchanges in December last year, House Majority Leader Rolando Andaya Jr. accused Diokno of inserting P75 billion into the budget of the Department of Public Works and Highways without the knowledge of the agency’s head, Public Works Secretary Mark Villar.

The accusation backfired on Andaya, who stepped down in January to become chair of the House appropriations committee. —With a report from Christine O. Avendaño

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