Drilon calls for transparency in budget process

By Marvin Sy and Jess Diaz

MANILA, Philippines — Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon has called for greater transparency in the budget process in the Senate, which he said will help remove fears about the return of the pork barrel system.

Drilon cited the lack of details in the submissions made by the Senate committee on finance, headed by Sen. Loren Legarda, for the consideration of the senators during plenary debates on the P3.767-trillion national budget.

The Senate and House of Representatives have started their conference on reconciling their divergent versions of the proposed P3.767-trillion 2018 national budget. The committee will try to agree on the final version of the budget before Congress adjourns for its month-long Christmas recess on Dec. 16.

Members of the conference committee agreed to authorize their respective chairpersons, Davao City Rep. Karlo Nograles, who heads the House appropriations committee, and his Senate counterpart Legarda, to discuss the changes made by the two chambers and agree on a compromise.

Drilon said there were several agencies whose proposed budgets were either increased or reduced by over P1 billion in the Senate version, the details of which were not made clear.

“May I propose that the good sponsor submit in plenary the justifications for the amendments that are over P1 billion?” Drilon asked, to which Legarda agreed.

Drilon also wanted the proponents of the amendments to be specified and put on record.

“We would like the committee to submit to each member of the Senate, and for the record, the nature and purpose of these changes in the agencies’ budget, particularly those with over P1 billion in addition,” Drilon said.

“We cannot leave our people in the dark as it would only fuel speculations that pork barrel is still thriving despite the Supreme Court’s decision declaring it unconstitutional,” he added.

Drilon noted that the Bureau of Customs, which came under fire for allowing the entry of P6.4 billion worth of shabu from China and its subsequent release to a warehouse in Valenzuela City, was given an increase of P1.49 billion in its 2018 budget.

The Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency, which was recently tasked to implement the administration’s anti-drug campaign, is proposed to receive additional P1.21 billion in its budget. 

On the other hand, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources saw a reduction of P1.84 billion in its budget.

Drilon also noticed that there are items in the budget whose appropriation decreased by billions in the Senate version.

These include the Pension and Gratuity Fund, whose proposed budget under the Senate version was decreased by P17.08 billion, as well as the National Disaster Risk Reduction Fund with a P8.1-billion decrease, and the Miscellaneous Personnel Benefits Fund with a P4.66-billion reduction.

He said some of the amendments may have been requested by the agencies or proposed by the members of the chamber and adopted as committee amendments by finance.

“We would like the committee to submit for the record the additions and deductions made and what programs are affected,” he added.

P900-M ‘Tokhang’ fund realigned

Drilon said he also wanted to know why the Department of the Interior and Local Government, under which falls the Philippine National Police (PNP) budget, was given an additional P1.65 billion by the Senate.

The minority group of Drilon proposed the allocation of the P900-million fund of the PNP for its anti-drug campaign called “Tokhang” to housing.

Sen. Joseph Victor Ejercito, in charge of the PNP budget, accepted the proposal.

Sen. Panfilo Lacson said the Tokhang fund was realigned to the housing for soldiers and policemen.

Legarda said an additional P500 million in PNP funding was also realigned.

Nograles said these appropriations were kept with the PNP in the House version of the 2018 budget.

Presidential spokesman Harry Roque yesterday warned of the repercussion of the Senate’s decision to slash the proposed budget for the anti-drug campaign.

“Obviously, the President needs to fund his pet undertakings and the drug war...It will have of course adverse effect if he does not have the funding to implement this war on drugs,” Roque said.

“I’m sure the PNP will be asked for its opinion...I myself have not gone through the Senate version of the budget,” he added. – Christina Mendez

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