Don’t Veto ‘Anti-Hostage’ Pork Provision, Lacson asks Palace

Although he will gain nothing from it, Sen. Panfilo M. Lacson took up the cudgels for his colleagues in the minority whose pork barrel funds Malacañang had kept “hostage” for the last two to three years. 

Lacson asked Malacañang Tuesday not to veto the special provision he introduced to the P1.227-trillion national budget for 2008, even as he dared it to account for the “hostaged,” or unreleased, pork funds since 2005 after the “Hello Garci” scandal broke out.

“I am aware I will not gain anything out of the special provision because I have refused to avail of my pork barrel allocations since 2002. But many of my colleagues in the minority in both Houses of Congress have had their pork allocations withheld for ‘defying’ the main occupant of the Palace,” he said.

This, even as Lacson “reduced” the national budget for 2008 by P300 million, from P1.227 trillion to P1.2267 trillion, including his P200-million pork allocation and half of Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV’s allocation for infrastructure projects of P100 million for 2008.

On the other hand, Lacson said it is high time that Malacañang make a full accounting of the pork it withheld from lawmakers since the “Hello Garci” scandal, which triggered an impeachment case against Mrs. Arroyo, broke out.

“The unreleased pork barrel has been part of the national budget and has not been accounted for. Where did it go?” he said.

Lacson, in his special provision for this year’s budget, noted Malacañang would make sure lawmakers toe the line by withholding the pork allocations of lawmakers who cross paths with it.

He specified that the pork funds for each lawmaker cannot be impounded and should be released within the budget year.

“It has been the practice of this administration to impound the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) of some members of Congress who are critical of this administration. Some of them have not received a single release of their approved PDAF allocation for a period of two to three years to the detriment of their constituencies,” he said in explaining the provision he introduced.

With the special provision, Lacson said lawmakers need not fear Malacañang will hold their pork barrel allocations hostage should they “defy” its main occupant.

The special provision should limit, if not remove, the authority of the President to impound the approved PDAF allocation of all members of Congress, “regardless of their political affiliations.” It also specifies that the allocations will be valid for two years from the date of approval.

Lacson recalled that the Palace had blocked the release of pork allocation funds for other opposition senators, and on occasion, even for administration lawmakers who do not follow its dictates.

“The amount herein authorized cannot be impounded and shall be released within the budget year: Provided, furthermore, that the appropriations herein authorized shall have a validity of two years as provided under Section 65 of the General Provisions in this Act,” read Lacson’s special provision.

Meanwhile, Lacson also noted that both Houses of Congress adopted amendments he introduced to the budget bill, in support of the Millennium Development Goals.

These included additional funding for distance education for high schools; field operations of medical, dental and optical health; creation of teaching and non-teaching positions; payment of unpaid teachers’ benefits; teachers’ training with emphasis on science and mathematics; and repair of school buildings;

Health items such as elimination of diseases deemed public health threats; rabies and tuberculosis control; family health including family planning; management of health care waste disposal including purchase of autoclaves; drug rehabilitation centers; additional subsidies to hospitals; additional fund for health insurance premium for indigents; prevention and information campaign on breast cancer; and enhancement of the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine.