Feud over 'pork' comeback allegations imperils 2019 budget passage

ABS-CBN News

Posted at Dec 12 2018 04:33 PM | Updated as of Dec 13 2018 01:21 AM

MANILA -- The Philippines on Wednesday was on the brink of ending the year without a national budget for the next 12 months as House Speaker Gloria Arroyo's allies clashed with officials of the executive over alleged billions of pesos in alleged "insertions."

The country last started the year with a reenacted budget in 2010, when then President Arroyo did not sign the General Appropriations Act until February. Since then, the budget was always signed before the year closed.

The Senate and the House of Representatives set the last day of sessions on Thursday. On Wednesday, they convened in a joint session to discuss President Rodrigo Duterte's request to extend martial law in Mindanao until the end of 2019.

House Majority Leader Rolando Andaya, who claimed there were P75 billion in "insertions," told DZMM Wednesday that the "signal" from Malacañang was to continue scrutinizing the 2019 budget proposal.

RETURN OF PORK?

During a question hour at the House on Tuesday where Budget Secretary Benjamin Diokno was the resource person, Andaya said Duterte and Public Works Secretary Mark Villar told him that they were unaware of P51 billion in alleged "insertions."

Diokno said the actual figure was P71 billion. He denied irregularities, saying the budget was "augmented" upon the request of the public works department.

"You cannot call that insertion because that's part of the process," Diokno said.

On Monday, Andaya said House members likened the apparent favor given to construction firm CT Leoncio to the alleged misuse of congressional funds that involved several lawmakers and businesswoman Janet Lim-Napoles, also known as the pork barrel scam. 

"Kung 'di ito ma-nip in the bud, [scam] in the making ito," he told House reporters.

(If this had not been nipped in the bud, this would be something a scam in the making.)

Andaya said Consolacion Tubuhan Leoncio cornered projects in Sorsogon, Samar, and Catanduanes even if her firm was a single proprietorship operating in Bulacan.

Leoncio denied the allegation in a phone interview with ABS-CBN News, saying: "Hindi lang naman ako contractor na marami na-aaward, walang milagro dahil dumaan yan sa tamang proseso."

(I am not the only contractor that was awarded many projects. There is no miracle. everything went through the process.)

DIOKNO IN HOT SEAT

Also on Tuesday, House Minority Leader Danilo Suarez, another Arroyo ally, took Diokno to task over P2.8 billion in government projects in Sorsogon where his in-laws are seeking public office.

Diokno told Suarez that he was "not aware" of his allegation.

"I’ve served 3 presidents. I’m known for my integrity. I have no relatives, no friends as far as the public affairs is concerned," Diokno said.

"That's my reputation. That’s why they call me 'Dr. No.' I don't know what your question is all about," he said.

Speaking at his regular breakfast forum for reporters on Wednesday, Diokno said he was in no position to "micromanage" allocations.

"That's the job of the implementing agencies. We release the money to them," he said.

ECONOMIC FALLOUT

Diokno said about P200 billion in funds "won't be around" if the country operates on a reenacted budget at the start of 2019.

"Our raw targets, our carefully crafted expansionary fiscal policy, if you reduce budget, you interrupt growth momentum," Diokno said.

A smaller budget could shave off 1.1 to 2.3 percentage points from gross domestic product growth next year. This means the economy would grow by 4.7 to 5.9 percent when it should have expanded by 7 percent, he said.

There could also be as many as 600,000 job cuts and 200,000 to 400,000 people could be "pushed into poverty," he said.

But Arroyo played down the economic impact of a reenacted budget.

"I’ve had reenacted budgets but as I’ve said, it’s only for the first portion. After a while, I don’t remember how long my reenacted budget was, but after a short while, we go to the regular budget of the year," Arroyo said.

Arroyo said she was open to extending sessions into the Christmas break to give the Senate enough time to approve the budget. 

Senate Majority Leader Juan Miguel Zubiri earlier said the Senate would try to approve the 2019 budget before it goes on recess.