THE House leadership said it is expecting the “smooth” passage of the P4.1 trillion budget in bicameral conference despite recent exchanges with the Senate about the alleged presence of pork in the 2020 spending plan.

“Relative ang word na smooth (The term smooth is relative), I expect it will be contentious in regard to what programs should be funded, I expect it to be smooth pagdating sa pork kasi wala talaga (I expect talks to be smooth when it comes to pork because there really is none),” Speaker Alan Peter S. Cayetano said in a briefing Monday.

Senator Panfilo M. Lacson has alleged that “insertions” were made in the proposed budget after the House approved it on final reading weeks ago.

“I invite my friends in the Senate, including Sen. Lacson to look at national development, ano bang programa ang kailangan ng pondo (I invite Sen. Lacson to view the issue in national development terms — which programs really need to be funded)“ Mr. Cayetano said.

The House approved P9.5 billion in “realignments” to the proposed national budget, including an additional P3.5 billion for the Department of Agriculture, of which P3 billion was to fund purchases of palay, or unmilled rice.

Paano naman magiging pork ang palay and pambili ito ng palay, katulad sa Taguig, kami bibili ng palay, pero walang pondo pambili ng palay sa Taguig (How can palay purchasing palay be pork? Take for example Taguig, we will buy palay but there are no funds) so we can argue but the reality is factual lahat ng inilagay naming changes walang pork diyan (all the budget changes are factual, and none if it is pork),” he said, referring to his home district of Taguig’s plans to engage in direct palay puchasing to support farmgate prices.

Mr. Cayetano said, however, that questions about pork from the Senate have been in “good faith.”

“I assume na itong criticisms ay in good faith but hinding-hindi papayag ang House na ma-delay ang budget so huwag nating i-compare sa nangyari before… Ngayon despite the speakership fight, nagkakaisa kaming lahat (I assume the criticism is in good faith but the House will not allow the budget to be delayed. So let’s not compare what happened before… despite the speakership fight, the House is united)” he said.

He was referring to the delayed 2019 budget, which featured contentious negotiations between chambers over so-called “insertions.” The back-and-forth over changes to the budget led to a nearly four-month delay in its passage while provoking a veto from Malacañang on P95 billion worth of public works spending items.

In 2013, the Supreme Court ruled pork barrel unconstitutional in the form it then took. It was known at the time as the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF).

Hindi pa tapos ang transmittal, masyadong maaga silang magbatikos sa atin, may bicam conference committee pa, sama-sama tayo diyan, ang pinagbabawalan is after the House and the Senate passed the budget at pinakialaman (The budget has not yet been transmitted and we are already coming under fire. We will examine the budget together in bicam… what is not allowed is changes to the bicam version after the House and Senate agree,” according to Rep. Martin G. Romualdez, the Majority Leader from Leyte’s 1st district.

The budget will be transmitted to the Senate today, Oct. 1.

On Sept. 17, President Rodrigo R. Duterte certified the proposed 2020 national budget as urgent. — Vince Angelo C. Ferreras