‘Senate plan will restore inequitable budget item’

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THE leadership of the House of Representatives on Thursday said the Senate stance on the 2019 national budget will restore huge allocations of former leaders of the chamber and the P75-billion alleged insertions  of the Department of Budget and Management (DBM).

House Committee on Appropriations Chairman Rolando Andaya Jr., in a statement, urged the Senate to reexamine the list of congressmen who received huge allocations before the itemization and realignment during the bicameral conference committee.

“Those in the top list were allotted with projects ranging from P2 billion to P8 billion per district.

Is this equitable? Is this conscionable?” he added.

“If we had not resorted to this, the mind-boggling allocations for previous House leaders and their pet districts, plus DBM insertions the DPWH were clueless about, would have remained intact,” Andaya said.

If the senators will remain steadfast in defending the lump-sum funds, Andaya added this practice will remain and only the favored districts will get their share of the taxpayers’ money.

“While we aim for an equitable distribution among districts, the Senate obviously wants to restore a budget that is unfair and lopsided,” he added.

Andaya also reiterated the challenge to the Senate to identify their  lump-sum funds. According to Andaya, the realignment of the Senate is also nowhere to be found in the bicameral conference committee report.

“Despite the President’s position, I heard from the news that the senators are standing firm on their preference for lump-sum budgeting. Their threat: approve the bicameral conference report with lump-sum funds or suffer the consequences of a reenacted budget,” he said.

“Why are the senators so afraid of line-item budgeting, with itemized programs and projects written in the national budget for all the people to see?” he added.

Andaya said  the bicameral conference report that the Senate and the House approved on February 8 contained lump-sum funds.

Practice ever since

“This has been the practice ever since. Nothing unconstitutional, illegal or irregular. This is the document ratified by the Senate and the House.

It is up to each chamber to itemize the lump-sum funds contained in the bicameral report before sending the enrolled copy of the General Appropriations Bill to the President,” he added.

“As agreed during the bicam, the House itemized the lump-sum funds after it was ratified in the plenary. Our last day for itemization: March 3. The Senate did the same and sent their realignments to the chairman of the House Appropriations Committee beginning February 11, three days after it was ratified in the plenary. The last day that the Senate wrapped up the realignments: March 7,” Andaya said.

Clearly, both chambers adopted the same procedure, he said, adding “If what the House did was illegal, then the Senate is equally guilty.”

Majority Floor Leader Fredenil Castro, meanwhile asked the senators to explain billions of fund they took in the 2019 national budget.

“Where they put the P2.5 billion they took from the Greening Project. The P3 billion they removed from Tesda scholarships, the P11 billion for the right-of-way projects for the President’s ‘Build, Build, Build’ program, the P2.5-billion funding for foreign-assisted projects. The Senate removed all those allocations and we don’t know where they put them,” said Castro.