A voice in the wilderness is still better than an unheard voice.

This is the sad commentary of Sen. Panfilo M. Lacson on how he felt as some influential members of the House of Representatives mangled the 2021 P4.5-trillion national budget by successfully ramming their ‘’pork barrel’’ appropriations or pet projects into the ratified Senate-House bicameral conference committee report on the budget.  

Lacson laments unsuccessful crusade vs 'pork'
Sen. Panfilo Lacson
(Joseph Vidal/Senate PRIB)

During a Senate media Zoom interview, Lacson expressed his frustrations over his unsuccessful crusade against pork barrel allocations. 

He alone cast the dissenting vote against the ratification of the committee report last Wednesday.  

He conceded that Sen. Juan Edgardo ‘’Sonny’’ M. Angara, Senate Committee on Finance chairman, was pressured by the House committee into accepting their amendments that included their pet projects so that the Senate would be on track of its schedule to have the proposed budget sent to Malacanang before the Christmas recess.

If not, the country would again have a reenacted budget to be used in the 2021 fiscal year and that Angara does not like.

During the first day of the bicameral conference committee hearing, members of both panels agreed to a proposal that Angara and his House counterpart, Eric Yap, alone sit down and iron out the differing provisions of their versions of the 2021 General Appropriations Bill (GAB).

The result their deliberation was, after a floor debate in the Senate, ratified by both Legislative chambers.  

Queried whether Malacanang had a hand in the mangling of the GAB or is it a House of Representatives thing, Lacson replied: ‘’The test of the pudding is in the eating.’’

‘’We’ll find out kung may ive-veto si PRRD (President Duterte) at kung ano ive-veto niya. I am sure even without outside help, ang agency heads and staff would know ano dapat i-veto at ano dapat i-retain,’’ he said.

(We will soon find out whether President Duterte will veto them …what will be vetoed or what should be retained)  

Asked if he was disappointed with Angara for bowing to the machinations of the House, Lacson said: ‘’I can only understand his position, ang situation niya napakahirap. Kasi kailangang mag-strike siya ng balance between the needs and priorities of the HOR, Senate, and country.’’

(He is in a difficult situation. If I were the chairman, I would choose national interest first. When I interpellated him, he said the budget might not be passed and we might have a re-enacted budget)

‘’Pero kung ganoon lagi ang mangyayari, we will just surrender to the whims and caprices of some congressmen, mostly allied with the leadership whether old or new leadership, huwag na tayo mag-deliberate kasi nagsasayang tayo ng energy and effort. That’s not the way it should be,’’ he pointed out.

(If that is the usual situation….we should not deliberate on the budget anymore because we will just be losing energy and effort)
Asked if the budget is not balanced, Lacson said it is not at the very least. ‘’It is not responsive to the budget philosophy of Reset, Rebound, Recover (RRR).’’

Lacson admitted that he has toyed with the idea of not actively participating in budget hearings but the siren call to reveal or point out irregularities or shenanigans of some lawmakers in the budget process is too strong to resist. 

‘’I am thinking of writing Malacanang to point out or at least assist them to identify excessive augmentations, realignments and unconscionable or unreasonable deduction,’’ Lacson said.

Copy of the enrolled GAB was expected to be transmitted to Malacanang by Senate President Vicente C. Sotto III Monday.

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