BY ROGER M. BALANZA
Members of the House of Representatives have discovered that about P50 billion in questionable funds in House Bill (HB) No. 8169 or the 2019 General Appropriations Act of 2019, were allegedly ‘inserted’ at the time when Davao del Norte Congressman Pantaleon Alvarez was the sitting House Speaker.
In wake of the discovery, House Speaker Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo has ordered a review of the proposed P 3.757 trillion budget. Plenary debates on the budget were supposed to have started on Monday, September 17.
Arroyo ordered the review after receiving reports of congressmen saying that there are about P50 billion worth of “misplaced” funds inserted in the budget allocated to several congressional districts.
The insertion discovered by the congressmen in the 2019 budget would be similar to the controversial Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) also known as “pork barrel fund” that has been declared as unconstitutional by the Supreme Court.
The misuse of the PDAF by members of Congress in the previous administrations before it was outlawed by the Supreme Court, created a political scandal in an investigation on the so-called “PDAF scam” or the “pork barrel scam,” involving ghost projects and millions of pesos in kickbacks going to the pockets of members of Congress who choose projects funded by the congressional fund.
The campaign against corruption in government is one of the top priorities of President Rodrigo Duterte and lawmakers have assured the President and Speaker Arroyo that there will be no pork barrel funds in the 2019 budget.
The P50 billion questionable fund was allegedly inserted when the 2019 budget was being prepared during the time of Alvarez.
The alleged insertion has placed in hot water House committee on appropriations chairman Davao City Congressman Karlo Nograles, who nearly lost his chairmanship as legislators questioned how the P50 billion was included in the 2019 budget.
It is the Nograles committee that reviews the budget before it is tossed to plenary for debates.
Nograles was also the chairman of the powerful committee during the time of Alvarez, when the insertions were said to have been executed.
The Davao City congressman, son of former Speaker Prospero Nograles, was among the committee chairpersons appointed by Alvarez, but he retained his position by voting for Arroyo when Alvarez was ousted in a coup in July.
Alvarez has denied having a hand in the insertions, a report in a national daily said. Sources, quoted in other reports, said the insertion was done before Alvarez was replaced by Arroyo.
“I don’t know what they are talking about. Why should I insert budget outside of my district? It does not make sense,” Alvarez said.
The discovery of the alleged insertion has moved the House leadership to postpone the scheduled start of the plenary debates on the 2019 budget on September 17.
Revealing details of the insertions, House Majority Leader Rolando Andaya said that at least 50 congressmen told Arroyo about the inserted funds.
According to Andaya, the congressmen will testify that there are allocations and activities happening in their districts which they are not aware of involving funds from the 2018 budget as well as the proposed 2019 budget.
This means that the congressmen were seeing projects, that they were not aware of, being implemented in their districts.
Apparently, the insertions could lead to a full blown investigation by the House.
Andaya said the congressmen will be helping the House leadership in ferreting out the insertions.
We are in the process of looking for this so-called P50 billion. Our budget is at the trillions already, so it would take some time to sift through all of it. Luckily, with the aid of a lot of the congressmen, we are slowly zeroing in on this so-called insertions, Andaya said.
The issue is how the budget was allocated and how the previous budget or the present budget is being spent,” said Andaya.
Andaya said the House leadership plan to realign parts of the 2019 budget found to be insertions.
The House would already have started deliberating on the 2019 budget at the plenary Tuesday, September 18.
Rumors spread in the House on Monday about Nograles’ ouster as appropriations chairman in wake of the insertion issue.
This developed as Nograles crossed words with Andaya over the proposed 2019 budget during a meeting of the appropriations committee.
Reportedly, the House leadership wanted Nograles to sign another committee report on the 2019 budget in lieu of the original report that reportedly contained the insertions.
The appropriations chairman denied during the meeting that P50 billion was allegedly inserted into the budget for the district projects of several lawmakers.
“We will defend the general appropriations bill that was approved by the committee on appropriations, that was approved by the rules committee, that is now sitting on the desk of each and every congressman on the floor, and that is what we will defend on the floor, that is what we will debate upon on the floor,” Norales said at the meeting.
Clashing with Nograles, Andaya said the Nograles committee has not submitted any committee report to the committee on rules which he chairs.
Andaya added that Nograles also did not submit a second committee report in lieu of the original report of the appropriations committee.