At the hearing on the 2021 budgets of the Commission on Audit and Office of the Ombudsman, Sen. Lacson stressed the DBM has no authority under the Constitution to issue a discontinuance against a constitutional body such as the COA – after noting that the DBM issued a budget circular providing for the discontinuance of Programs, Activities and Projects (PAPs) of COA amounting to a total of P173M under the 2020 budget as they were categorized as congressional initiative and as “For Later Release.”
“My point is, Mr. Chairman, under the Constitution – particularly Sec. 5, Art 9-A, it provides for the automatic and regular release of the annual appropriations of constitutional commissions. And COA very clearly is one of three constitutional commissions, Comelec and CSC being the others. Of course even the judiciary,” Sen. Lacson said as he also cited jurisprudence (Bengzon vs Drilon, GR 103524), where fiscal autonomy allows the constitutional bodies and the judiciary full flexibility to allocate and utilize their resources with the wisdom and dispatch that their needs require. “So pag sinabi nating fiscal autonomy, walang pakialam ang DBM.”
COA Chairman Michael Aguinaldo said that while they are okay with the DBM’s decision “considering the difficulties the govt was having with funding in view of the pandemic,” he would agree that “it’s a violation of fiscal autonomy under the Constitution.”
“I’d like to manifest this very clearly, let this not serve as a precedent for future issuances by DBM; huwag lang gawing precedent setting ito. If I may add, emergency or no emergency, hindi pwedeng precedent ito,” Sen. Lacson said.
At the hearing on the proposed 2021 budget, Sen. Lacson stressed the need for greater government support for research and development, especially in the fight against COVID-19. He also raised questions on:
* Information that PhilHealth is not getting full allocations from the sin tax
* Why P30B in COVID-19 response funds remain undisbursed
* NEDA’s ‘Resiliency’ planning
At the hearing on the proposed 2021 budget, Sen. Lacson raised questions on the following issues:
* Ability of DPWH, DoTr to accomplish infrastructure programs to rebound from pandemic
* P396B in lump sums in the DPWH’s budget – lodged in the central office
* Re-appropriations involving 2,933 items worth P73.5B in the proposed budget
* P30B not yet allocated for COVID-19 response
Mr. Chairman, this representation as one of the Vice-Chairpersons of the Committee on National Defense, presided over a public hearing to deliberate on the ad interim appointments of 14 Senior Officers of the Armed Forces of the Philippines and the nomination of one officer to the rank of Lieutenant General.
Your Committee, after deliberating on their qualifications and fitness during the said public hearing, has determined that all of the 14 appointees and one nominee are fit and qualified to the ranks which they are respectively nominated or appointed, and has therefore ruled to recommend to the plenary their respective nomination and appointments for the consent and confirmation of this august body.
Sen. Lacson’s Opening Statement at the Senate Committee of the Whole Hearing on Corruption at PhilHealth:
Sa nakaraang dalawangaraw na pagdinig ng komite ng buong Senado na ating isinagawa sa kasalukuyan, buong singkad na maghapon nang parehong araw ng Martes, pinaligiran po tayo ng mga sinungaling at mga manloloko. Sabi nga ng nanay ng kasama nating Senator Grace Poe – “Ang sinungaling ay kapatid ng magnanakaw!”
Let me prove what I just said, Mr. President and distinguished colleagues.
Only last week, I asked Fund Management Sector Senior Vice President Renato Limsiaco, Jr., why despite PhilHealth being a withholding tax agent of the BIR, he failed to deduct and withhold from the funds advanced to the private hospitals and other health care institutions the taxes due them under the National Internal Revenue Code.
At the Aug. 11, 2020 hearing of the Senate Committee of the Whole regarding corruption at PhilHealth, Sen. Lacson bared more irregularities involving issues such as the Interim Reimbursement Mechanism and procurement of IT equipment. He also called for a “special special audit” of PhilHealth – and called out a PhilHealth executive for alluding to investigators as “kampon ni Satanas.”
And for good reason. PhilHealth is a murky, stinking swamp that many of its good and well-meaning people from the officials to their rank-and-file employees want drained, not just of some corrupt but well-entrenched officials who do not seem to run out of malevolent schemes to enrich themselves, but of a deeply rooted, mafia-like syndicate that controls the resources of the corporation, and habitually manipulate its financial records, that even the COA seems helpless in the conduct of their regular audit.
If we look closely enough, the story only revolves around the same cast of characters – a circle of high-ranking officials who manage to hog their seats despite the change of leadership and detailed anomalies that we already unearthed in the past.
At the hearing of the Senate Committee of the Whole on the government’s response against COVID-19, Sen. Lacson relayed to the appropriate officials some questions from the public on the tests by PhilHealth and Philippine Red Cross. “We’re not finding fault here… Nang lumabas na 45% ng tests ang na-conduct ng Red Cross, maraming natuwa (kasi ang) impression na dumating sa kanila, libre. Mabuti at maliwanagan ang kababayan natin na may protocols na dapat sundin.”
For his part, PhilHealth president Ricardo Morales said they will publish guidelines to clarify the issue on who can qualify for free COVID-19 testing under PhilHealth, “so the public will be informed.”
At the Senate hearing on the GCTA and related issues, Sen. Lacson stressed the need to resolve the problem involving the capacity of convicts to commit crimes, and put forward the “perfect alibi” of physical impossibility.