House itemization of 2019 budget not justifiable

MANILA -- Senator Panfilo Lacson on Wednesday said the House leadership's act of "itemizing" the allocations in the proposed 2019 national budget cannot be justified as a constitutional provision that bars amendments to a bill upon its last reading.

In a statement, Lacson said House appropriations committee chair Rolando Andaya Jr.'s claim that the House is merely itemizing the appropriations is a "tacit admission" that what was approved in the congressional bicameral conference committee report are "lump sum appropriations", hence the need to itemize.

Lacson earlier accused Speaker Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo of preparing and imposing a "menu list" of the Department of Health's budget for the Health Facilities Enhancement Program (HFEP) worth PHP25 million in individual allocations for her "favored congressmen".

He also claimed that Arroyo distributed only PHP8 million for the districts of House members who did not support her election as Speaker.

"By itemizing, does it give the Speaker the discretion as to the distribution, at least of the HFEP menu list of allocations to the congressmen as what is claimed by several congressmen who called my attention to it after they received specific instructions from the Speaker via SMS through GMA's staff named Salamanca?," Lacson said.

"If so, isn't that a clear grave abuse of discretion and violation of Art. VI, Sec. 26 (2) of the 1987 Constitution?" he added.

Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo said Arroyo told him over the phone that she did not introduce changes on the ratified bicameral report prior to the printing and enrollment of the budget measure, contrary to Lacson's claim.

According to Speaker Arroyo, as far as she knows, whatever was approved in the bicam is now the one being printed for submission to the Executive, Panelo told reporters.

Andaya said the House is detailing the items in the proposed PHP3.75-trillion national budget for 2019 to make all projects and programs funded per agency and by district "clear and evident".

The House is itemizing the appropriations therein, fleshing out lump sum funds, without departing from the approved specifications of the House-Senate approved budget. By so doing, we make the budget more transparent and easy to scrutinize, Andaya said in a statement.

He pointed out that the Senate President and the Speaker are not directly involved in the bicameral committee discussion, saying the "responsibility rests on the bicam conferees."

The Camarines Sur lawmaker stressed that the General Appropriations Act is a product of both the Senate and the House of Representatives, and that both chambers follow the same rules and procedures in crafting the national budget.

The House leader said if the Senate thinks that the procedure being undertaken by the House is illegal, then the Senate is equally guilty if on its part it had itemized the pet amendments on the budget by the senators.

Source: Philippines News Agency

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