#PINGterview: Updates on the 2021 Budget, Anti-Terror Law IRR

In an interview on CNN Philippines, Sen. Lacson answered questions on:

* ‘violations’ by the House in passing the P4.5-trillion 2021 budget bill

* possible institutional amendments for R&D, COVID vaccines

* implementing rules and regulations of the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020

* 2021 BUDGET:

Senators to Make Sure Budget is Passed on Time:

We will make sure of that, because it’s passed on third and final reading and they promised to transmit it to the Senate on Oct. 28 or 1-2 days later. So we have enough time. That’s the reason why we agreed among ourselves to resume session 1 week earlier. We’re supposed to resume on Nov. 16, we’re resuming our session on Nov. 9.”

First Violation: ‘Institutional Amendments’ to be Inputted After Third and Final Reading:

It is not a matter of being acceptable to the senators or not. It’s a matter of the Constitution prohibiting it. Sec 26 of the Constitution is very clear. No amendments shall be allowed after the final reading of any bill not just the GAA but any measure for that matter.”

It’s unconstitutional. They claim that it’s errata to be submitted by the agencies. But that’s another violation. The budget process is a 4-phase process that involves preparation to be handled by the executive branch. And authorization, we are now in the authorization phase, and it’s in the exclusive domain of Congress. So we cannot allow agencies under the executive branch to participate in the authorization phase. That is the exclusive domain of the Congress of the Philippines.”

“Anybody can question that before the SC. But in the meantime we will have to pass the budget. And we are thankful to the HOR leadership for passing the budget on third and final reading last Oct. 16. And we have enough time to do our thing and approve on third and final reading our own version of the budget on or before we go on break or even earlier so there will be enough time, say 1-2 weeks, for the BCC to happen.”

Whether or not it’s institutional or individual amendment is of no moment kasi the Constitution is very clear, they cannot anymore introduce amendments after the third and final reading of any bill, this bill included. In the meantime, we will have to live with that and tackle the budget measure in the Senate once it is transmitted to us, whether soft copy or hard copy. They promised to send us the USB drive the soft copy by Oct 28 and we will have enough time to look into it, so on Nov. 9, the chairman of the committee on finance will be able to file the Senate committee report and sponsor the measure on the floor, probably Nov. 10. So we’ll have enough time because interpellations and period of amendments, we can finish that in 2 weeks. Give or take, we’ll have ample time to pass our own version and even tackle the disagreeing provisions in bicameral conference.”

“(On adding House session days to tackle institutional amendments, before passing on third reading and printing) Dapat ganoon ang ginawa, nag-extend ng 1 more week before they approve the budget on third and final reading so they can input all the amendments, individual or institutional, within that 1-week period. And then 1 week later after Oct 16, maybe this week, they could have passed it on 3rd and final reading para i-transmit sa amin 1 week later, so pasok pa rin sa schedule. Anyway that’s not what happened, so we have to live with that.”

Second Violation: Allowing Executive to Take Part in Authorization Phase:

“The first violation is the Constitution, na walang pwedeng pumasok na amendments. Ang second violation is allowing the executive branch through their agencies to participate in the authorization phase of the budget process. There are 4 phases. Preparation handled by the executive; Authorization handled by Congress; Execution handled by the executive; and Accountability. This is where COA comes in. So separate and distinct lahat ang phases na yan. Sa amin ang authorization. So I cannot understand why the chairman of the appropriations committee of the HOR would allow the executive branch through their agencies to participate in the authorization phase. That is in violation of the budget process.”

If I may suggest, siguro the better way to do it is just to transmit to us whatever they passed on third and final reading, kung ano man ang form noon, and we tackle everything in the bicam. They can introduce their own amendments in the bicam. As we described the bicam, ito ang third and most powerful branch of the legislature.”

“I cannot see any reason why they should do that. Because it’s really in violation of the Constitution. It’s unconstitutional, plain and simple.”

Pork in Budget?

Wala pa ang transmitted version. So hindi pa natin makita ang final form ng GAB-2, which is the final HOR version. Under the NEP, doon kami may nakita. There’s another flaw in the submission of the NEP. While the DBM or executive submitted the budget last Aug. 25, which is well within the 30-day period allowed by the Constitution, na after mag-open ang Congress or when the President delivers the SONA, within 30 days kailangan transmit sa Congress, they did that. Ang problema, ang DPWH submitted what they called an addendum last Sept. 7, 12 days after the lapse of the 30-day period, saka pa lang nag-submit ng addendum, and we considered it part of the NEP. Ang DPWH di na sana pwede tanggapin ang sinubmit nilang addendum because that’s still part of the NEP. Expired na yan, nai-submit na ang NEP. So that’s another violation which we questioned during the committee hearings. May explanation sila they were pressed for time, etc., which to us senators hindi naman acceptable. But narito na tayo, so again we considered that, nakita namin may lump sums at naulit na appropriations. Meaning, projects already appropriated under the current year, 2020, inulit na naman ito. Exact technical description ng mga projects.”

Funds for National Projects Decreased, Local Projects Increased. Lawmakers Involved?

No clear answer to that. We had this information coming from the HOR members themselves, some of them were giving us the information, kaya na-delay ang submission ng DPWH na dapat sana sa NEP sa Aug 25 submission, dahil there was a lot of haggling that went on between some members of the HOR under the previous leadership and DBM. So nagka-delay-delay ang submission ng DPWH. In the meantime we found P396B worth of projects na lump sum. Walang items. Talagang very general ang description like preventive maintenance, primary, secondary, tertiary roads. Walang nakalagay kung anong items under preventive maintenance. And they submitted a detailed description of those lump sum appropriations. Doon na pumasok ang nabawasan. Hindi lamang ang lump sum ang hagip. Even other items under DPWH budget, binago. So it was, ang description ko nga, mangled beyond recognition. Mutilated. Talagang naiba na. So again I was questioning that early why would DPWH be able to participate sa authorization phase ng budget process kasi dapat sa Congress na yan. Pero nag-amend sila. Ang sinasabing addendum, effectively they amended the NEP. And that’s within exclusive jurisdiction of Congress, through the HOR and eventually the Senate. Ang daming violation nitong 2021.”

“Depends on the description of the items. Napansin namin kasi pag may theme every year pag nagbigay sila ng NEP sa Kongreso, may theme. And for 2021 ang theme nila napakaliwanag, Reset, Rebound, Recover. Dapat yan ang guiding principle. Lahat na items na ipapasok natin doon nakapaloob sa Reset Rebound Recover. Ang Reset tapos na yan kasi Jan to June; June to December yan ang Rebound. Rebound and Recover, under the 2021 budget, parang it doesn’t jive with the items in the budget. On the other hand baligtad ang nangyari. Instead of mag-comply o sumunod sa Rebound and Recover parang hindi roon papunta. Ang layo sa panawagan ng theme nila mismo.”

“We must remember that Congress exercises oversight functions or check and balance sa executive branch especially during budget deliberations. I can only surmise there was a lot of pressure on Sec Villar to accede to requests from district representatives. Kaya natagalan ang pag-submit nila.”

Double Appropriations:

There are 5,913 projects all in all, amounting to P135B. Ito ang appropriated in the 2020 budget, tapos nakita uli namin, the same description, ang mga stationing na tinatawag nila. From Km so and so to Km so and so. Ang tanong doon, kung hindi na-discontinue ang project, kung obligated na yan, that’s another violation. In Araullo vs Aquino and Belgica, clearly defined ng SC ano ang meaning ng savings. Pag savings kailangan discontinued or completed or abandoned. Ang tinatanong namin kina Sec Avisado and Villar, nag-fall ba under those categories ang mga projects na sa 2020? Kasi kung obligated meaning may notice of award, hindi mo na pwede bawasan ang budget na yan kasi obligation na yan, parang may contract between the contractor and the government. Yan ang problema.”

NTF-ELCAC P19B ‘Lump Sum’?

I asked the DND during our budget deliberations kasi ako ang sponsor ng budget ng DND. They will submit the itemized list of projects na papasok kasi ito DPWH din ito. Kaya lang naka-lodge ito sa DPWH, pero ang implementation is para sa infrastructure sa govt camps. PNP, AFP, and all the uniformed sector. So isa-submit nila yan before our floor deliberations. We expect to receive the submission both from DND and other uniformed services before the budget deliberations happen in the Senate. So hingi namin mga items.”

“As of now, tama ang sabi ng Makabayan bloc, naka-lump sum ito.”

‘Benefit of the Doubt’ for Now:

“Definitely dadaan talaga sa Senate yan kasi bicameral tayo. Now I’d like to give them the benefit of the doubt kasi new leadership. Hindi pa namin kakilala pa si Speaker Velasco and Rep Yap. Hindi naman sa pagbubuhat ng bangko. We are the old guards, and they are the young Turks. Gusto lang namin sila i-remind there’s a budget process that’s not supposed to be flouted, and there’s the Constitution that we must adhere to. Yan ang basic reminders namin sa kanila. Na pagpasa ng budget, meron tayong sinusunod na panuntunan. Sana sumunod naman sila roon para hindi magkaroon ng problema between the 2 houses. But yes, in the meantime, we’re willing to give them the benefit of the doubt na walang pork until we see the transmitted final version of the House budget bill.”

“(On HOR amendments after third reading): We’ll just formalize it. I am not saying we are accepting the amendments introduced by the HOR after not in compliance with third reading approved budget version. Pero we’ll formalize it in the Senate and probably in the bicam we can finalize it.”

* LIKELY INSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENTS to 2021 BUDGET:

Added Budgets for R&D, Vaccines:

I’m going to introduce and I’ll state it here and now, that I am inclined to introduce an institutional amendment to augment the budget of the DOST kasi nakaltasan ng P76M sa research. Another one, there’s P8.2B under the item Special Concerns, Convergence and Special Support. Ito naka-lodge sa budget ng DPWH pero ang implementation nito, ang makikinabang, is DOT. I asked this particular question during the budget deliberation sa committee, bakit ang tourism one of the hardest hit sectors, yung infrastructure kasi leading to tourism destinations, bakit binawasan ng P8.2B? Parang it doesn’t make sense ang theme ng 2021 budget is Reset, Rebound, Recover. Instead of allowing the tourism sector to rebound, binawasan pa ng P8.2B at dinala kung saan-saan, sa multipurpose buildings, and so forth. So ito ang mga institutional amendments. Ang individual amendments naman ito ang local projects like multipurpose building, dredging, flood control, farm-to-market roads.”

Ang problema kasi, napansin ko, year in and year out ang budget na binibigay natin sa R&D hindi lang sa DOST, across the board, lahat na agencies, nagko-constitute ito ng 0.4% lang ng national budget. Ang problema nating mga Pilipino, ang research and development natin, mag-Google, maghanap ng mabibili, instead na i-harness ang ating homegrown talents, mga scientists, researchers, at pondohan natin suportahan natin ng budget, hindi natin ginagawa. Kailangan natin ng vaccines at mga gamit para sa pandemic, bili tayo ng bili. Syempre kung bibili tayo mas mahal. It’s time we stopped shopping, tayo sana magbenta. And hindi tayo nagkukulang sa scientists and researchers, ang dami nating talents. Suportahan na lang sana natin para we would someday become an exporting country ng mga new inventions. Baligtad eh, 0.4%, pero yan ang nakakalungkot. That’s why I promised DOST ia-augment natin ang budget nila.”

Another item I want to augment as institutional amendment, ang vaccines. There’s only P2.5B for vaccines to cover 3.9M Filipinos. Assuming there’s a vaccine available in April 2021, kulang na kulang ang P2.5B. So I’m thinking of augmenting another P10B or at least ma-approximate ang P10B to cover more Filipinos. Kasi 3.9M of 100M Filipinos masyadong maliit ang mako-cover.”

“(On HOR adding P5B for COVID vaccines): That’s good because we’ll just formalize it. I am not saying we are accepting the amendments introduced by the HOR after not in compliance with third reading approved budget version. Pero we’ll formalize it in the Senate and probably in the bicam we can finalize it. Kung dinagdagan ng P10B so naging P12.5B, that’s most welcome. Pagka may vaccines next year, kailangan talaga natin to cover as many Filipinos as we can. Kasi kung 3.9M how about the 96M Filipinos? Maghahawa-hawa rin yan.”

Added Budget for DICT:

And ito isa pa, ang DICT. They were requesting for something like P18B para sa national broadband program. Kasi nariyan na ang highway na tinatawag. All they have to do is improve it some more and they need P18B. Ang binigay lang sa kanila P902M. Ang cost-effectiveness noon, in 5 years, ang matitipid ng govt agencies kasi ngayon lahat na govt offices nagbabayad para sa internet services. Ang estimate nila, the entire govt bureaucracy makakatipid ng P34B. So di ba cost-effective yan mag-invest, P18B for next year, tapusin ang national broadband program, and in 5 years maka-save ang govt ng P34B. During the first year ang estimate mga P730+ million. Ganoon ang cost-effectiveness, ewan ko hindi nakikita ng mga policy makers.”

* ANTI-TERROR LAW IRR:

Publication of People Tagged as Designated Terrorists?

Designation is purely administrative. Hindi ito judicial. Walang judicial process involved sa designation.”

Hindi naman ito absolute on the part of the ATC, ang pag-determine kung sino ang ma-designate. Ang sinusunod natin dito ang UN SC Resolution 1373. May mga parameters diyan. Even if say a supranational organization like the EU nag-request sa PH, sa ATC, i-designate nyo itong CPP-NPA as a terrorist organization, the ATC cannot just do that. Kailangan susunod ito sa panuntunan ng UNSC Resolution 1373. And ang designation, ang purpose lang nito hindi pwede arestuhin pagka designated ang person. Ang pwede lang gawin doon, pwedeng dumulog ang ATC sa AMLC para sa freezing of assets, precisely because pag na-freeze ang assets, whether bank accounts, or ibang moving assets ng designated person, magkakaroon ng sapat na pagkakataon na ma-preempt ang occurrence ng terrorism. Nangyari ito sa Marawi. Sa Marawi sige ang flow of funds papuntang Marawi, helpless ang government. Alam nila, may information na sila na unusual ang flow ng funds at may information sila may mangyayaring terrorist activity sa Marawi but they were so helpless. So nilagyan natin dito to prevent the commission of the crime of terrorism. Pinapayagan ito sa UNSC resolution.”

Wala kasi sa batas yan, sa IRR lumabas ang publication. And anybody can question. Kasi baka ang Data Privacy Act may implication, baka may violation. I don’t know. Pero ang sa batas mismo, walang sinasabi na ipa-publish. But we gave the ATC that authority under certain conditions within some parameters to designate individuals or persons. Ang proscription ang judicial.”

“Sa akin may purpose yan. I can only guess na ang purpose ng ATC na mag-publish, ay para i-defend o makapag-ready ang designated person on whatever prospective action could be taken against him, like freezing of accounts. Let’s see how it shapes up later. May pending petitions sa SC and I’m sure this will be tackled among others.”

Inchoate Offense Test Case:

“Ang anak ng Indonesian couple responsible for the suicide bombing mission sa Sulu, hindi pa siya nag-commit ng crime. Sinama natin ang inchoate offenses para ma-prevent. Ito ang planning, preparation, facilitation. Clearly kung titingnan natin ang evidence vs @Cici, meron siyang explosives na naka-disguise sa vest. And then meron siyang ibang nakuha sa kanyang ebidensya. It is up to the law enforcement agents na nakaaresto sa kanya to prove ang tinatawag nating inchoate offenses. Na may ebidensya sila sa preparation. At ang penalty doon is as heavy as having participated in the actual act of terrorism, which is life imprisonment na walang GCTA, walang benefit of parole.” (30)

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