By Tracy Cabrera
THE Makabayan bloc in the House of Representatives gainsays the claim of House speaker Lord Allan Velasco that the PhP4.5-trillion proposed national budget for 2021 approved by the chamber on third and final reading last Friday, October 16, as “free of pork.”
According ACT Teachers party-list representative France Castro, PhP16.4 billion for barangay development projects under the National Task Force to End Communist Armed Conflict still remains in the budget and this was “not clearly defined,” thus making it “essentially pork.”
Pork or pork barrel has been officially defined as the use of government funds for projects designed to please voters or legislators and win votes, hence it may be considered as public money to be used for the benefit of their respective sponsors.
“The Speaker said there is no pork, but I believe this is pork because it is a lump-sum (appropriation) and it’s up to the discretion of (President Rodrigo) Duterte’s generals,” Castro pointed out in an online press briefing.
Another Makabayan lawmaker questioned the multibillion-peso appropriation for the task force that could have been allocated for the government’s coronavirus response.
“There is a P19.1-billion budget for the (task force) while many Filipinos are dying from hunger due to the pandemic. (The government) prioritized funding a nonline agency, the [task force], which is just a coordinating body,” Gabriela party-list lawmaker Arlene Brosas said in the same briefing.
Under the proposed General Appropriations Act for 2021, the task force has a budget of PhP19 billion, PhP16 billion of which is earmarked for its barangay development program.
National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon Jr., the task force vice chair, earlier said that 822 remote barangays would each get PhP20 million from the fund.
But Velasco had said on Friday night that the House had approved a “constitutional budget” with “no pork.”
Yet Brosas countered that the budget was “riddled with (irregularities) and pork.”
She cited the PhP38-billion right-of-way fund allocated for the Department of Public Works and Highways, which she said was “vulnerable to corruption and arbitrary spending.”
Brosas lamented that while huge amounts were allocated for the construction, repair and maintenance of roads, bridges, and flood-control projects, no funds were allocated for the building of hospitals.
“This 2021 budget really abandoned public health, the distribution of assistance, the micro, small and medium enterprises, and the agriculture sector,” she noted.
Public Works Secretary Mark Villar had expressed confidence that his agency’s proposed budget would pass the scrutiny of lawmakers.
In another revelation, Bayan Muna party-list solon Eufemia Culliamat blasted the allocation of PhP4.5 billion for the President’s intelligence fund.
“The intelligence and confidential fund was increased while it is not clear where this fund will be spent and certainly there will be no accountability,” Culliamat disclosed.
In addition, another Bayan Muna representative, Ferdinand Gaite, said that a huge portion of the PhP4.5-trillion proposed budget would come from borrowings.
“It is estimated that P3 trillion will be borrowed,” Gaite said.