ADMINISTRATION lawmakers threatened a tit-for-tat response to the slow release of their pork barrel by the Palace Thursday by blocking the confirmation of Cabinet members and forcing Malacañang to defend every detail of a re-enacted budget.
They also held the Palace to a promise by Budget Secretary Florencio Abad to increase the allocations to the Visayas and Mindanao, to 10 percent and 20 percent of the total spending plan, up from only 7.5 percent and 15 percent in the proposed budget.
“An agreement was made and the Executive has to make good its promise, otherwise the House will have to stand by its position not to approve the new budget,” said Maguindanao Rep. Simeon Datumanong, a member of the bicameral committee on appointments that confirms or rejects Cabinet appointments.
“The failure to deliver the promise is also tantamount to being remiss of their duty that will reflect on their performance, and they will be judged by the Commission on Appointments according to the performance of their duties,” Datumanong warned.
Earlier, the congressional allies of President Benigno Aquino III accused the Palace of breaking the law by withholding half or P35 million of the annual P70-million pork barrel allocation in the first six months of the new administration.
They threatened to give Mr. Aquino a re-enacted budget and make his Cabinet members defend every detail of the lump-sum appropriation.
Lawmakers also complained that the Palace had imposed a new menu of projects on which pork barrel could be spent, and rejected the projects that were approved by the previous Congress under the 2010 budget.
“The Palace has violated the law by tinkering with the existing setup because the menu for this year’s projects had already been approved in the 2010 budget by the previous Congress under the Arroyo administration,” said Eastern Samar Rep. Ben Evardone, a member of the President’s own Liberal Party.
“We need our pork barrel funds. Our districts need it and our constituents are clamoring for it,” Evardone said.
“What is taking the Palace so long?”
Not one of the 274-member House has received a pork barrel allocation under the Aquino administration, which has said the money may not be released due to an election ban that comes into effect 45 days before the village polls on Oct. 25.
The first tranche of P35 million was released in the first half of the year by the previous administration.
Cebu Rep. Gabriel Quisumbing of Lakas-Kampi, also a member of the majority, attributed the Palace’s refusal to release the pork barrel to the Executive’s “misplaced sense of transparency.”
Quisumbing said the Palace had made it “very cumbersome” for the lawmakers to have their pork barrel projects approved.
“In my case, they disapproved my proposed projects three times and had me revise them according to their own menu because I based my proposal on the old set-up because that was the one approved by the previous Congress based on the 2010 budget,” Quisumbing said.
“It is demeaning to go back many times like I was begging for the projects that my constituents very well deserved.”
As these developed, 112 administration lawmakers from the Visayas and Mindanao, who had the budget deliberations suspended Wednesday night, were joined by their Luzon counterparts in demanding that their districts be given a bigger share of the budget pie.
House Majority Leader Neptali Gonzales II said the lawmakers from Luzon shared the sentiment of their counterparts in the Visayas and Mindanao. He assured the majority and the minority blocs that Abad would be providing Congress with a list of projects that would beef up spending in the regions, and using funds from the P1 trillion allocated to the different departments.
Gonzales said Abad would submit the list on his return from Washington, where he was to attend the International Monetary Fund-World Bank meeting from Oct. 8 to 11.
House Minority Leader Edcel Lagman set two conditions for waiting for Abad’s return.
“We are willing to wait provided he complies with two conditions,” he said.
“First, the list should be submitted on or before the House approves on second reading the P1.645-trillion national budget on Oct.15. Second, any such response should be incorporated in the budget as congressional authorization to protect the House and its members. Under these conditions, we are willing to wait,” Lagman told the plenary.
The members of the majority, meanwhile, demanded the release of their pork barrel under the old setup approved in 2010.
Quisumbing said the Executive wanted specific details of the projects, such as the list of names of scholars and indigent patients.
“We only extend P2,000 in monthly stipends to my scholars, but we cannot predict who passes in the first semester and continues schooling in the second semester or who would drop out of school due to other reasons,” he said.
Chjristine Herrera, Manila Standard Today