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Zubiri expects no issues with Senate budget review timeline

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SENATE Majority Leader Juan Miguel F. Zubiri said Thursday that he does not expect his chamber’s review process for the P51 billion realigned in the budget by the House of Representatives to delay the approval process.

“It wouldn’t (delay) because (Budget) Secretary (Benjamin E.) Diokno has promised that we will discuss this with him, because Senator (Panfilo M.) Lacson just wants transparency,” he told reporters during the Kapihan sa Senado media forum.

He said Mr. Diokno will be attending an all-senators caucus next week to clarify the issues on the alleged pork barrel in the proposed 2019 budget and on the need to prevent a reenacted budget.

The House of Representatives realigned some P51 billion from the budget of Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) to fund other agencies. Mr. Lacson has claimed that P60 million worth of “pork” sourced from the realigned appropriations was given to each congressmen.

However, House Majority Leader Rolando G. Andaya on Wednesday clarified in a television interview that the P60 million allotted to congressmen was meant to fund local projects that the lawmakers were obligated to itemize.

Mr. Zubiri said the P51 billion realignment would be the most contentious issue for Senate will review in its budget deliberations. Mr. Lacson has promised to closely examine questionable “insertions” when the proposed budget reaches the Senate.

Mr. Zubiri also saw nothing wrong with “institutional insertions” made by legislators in the proposed budget because of their obligation to provide for the needs of their constituencies. However, he added that the funding must be used for actual projects and must not be pocketed.

“In fairness to the congressmen and some senators also, they have constituencies that they’d like to support… It’s also their job, their duty to be able to help provide these projects to their constituencies,” he said.

“What we don’t want to happen is for (the funding) to be stolen, to have problems in the bidding process… As long as the project stands and it is approved by the department. For me, I don’t see anything wrong,”

Nevertheless, the Senate leader added that the budget will face swifter passage once the issues on the P51 billion are cleared up. The chamber has committed to fast-track the budget’s third-reading approval and ratification before the Christmas-New Year break in order to have the budget signed by the President within the year.

“I believe if that (P51 billion) is accounted for and is transparent, I believe we’ll have no major problems,” Mr. Zubiri said.

However, Mr. Lacson maintained that the P60 million supposedly given to congressmen was pork barrel despite Mr. Andaya’s explanation.

“They excised P20 billion from the P51.792 billion proposed national budget and appropriated P60 million to each of their 297 members, probably more to a blessed few since a simple computation tells me there is an excess of P2.17 billion,” he told reporters in a text message.

“If that isn’t pork, tell me what it is,” he added.

The Supreme Court in its 2013 ruling declared the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF), as unconstitutional. The pork barrel system allows lawmakers to nominate pet projects through lump sum allocations in the annual budget.

In its decision, the SC said PDAF created a system of budgeting where items are not specified, thus denying the President the power to veto appropriations. — Camille A. Aguinaldo