Wednesday, March 02, 2005

Senate OKs national budget

Each senator to get P120-M pork barrel

Posted 11:56pm (Mla time) Mar 01, 2005
By Juliet Labog-Javellana, TJ Burgonio
Inquirer News Service

Editor's Note: Published on page A1 of the Mar. 2, 2005 issue of the Philippine Daily Inquirer

A DAY after expressing her displeasure over the failure of Congress to pass the proposed national budget, President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo got what she wanted -- a new P907.56-billion outlay for 2005.

The new budget provides for P120 million in pork barrel funds for each senator, down from P200 million, and a P40-million allocation for every member of the House of Representatives, down from P70 million.

In an unprecedented move, the Senate junked last night its own version of the budget and adopted in toto the 2005 budget proposed by the President and approved by the House of Representatives.

Senate President Franklin Drilon said MalacaƱang was "pleasantly surprised" by the development, which would pave the way for the immediate signing of the budget.

Asked if MalacaƱang had set a date for the signing, Drilon said: "No, they are still recovering from their pleasant surprise."

He said the Senate secretary general had communicated the adoption of the budget bill to the House.

"Now that we have adopted the House version, we don't need a bicameral conference, and the President can now sign the budget," Senator Manuel Villar, chair of the Senate finance committee, said.

20 affirmative votes

Opposition senators joined the Senate majority in delivering a unanimous 20 affirmative votes in favor of adopting the House version just a day after the President urged legislators, who were not passing the budget and the value-added tax (VAT) bills, not to hold the nation hostage to petty politics.

The Senate earlier approved a national budget which was P240 million lower than the House version.

"The Senate today took the unprecedented and historic move of approving without any amendment House Bill No. 3154 or the [proposed] General Appropriations Act of 2005 by a vote of 20 affirmative votes, no negative votes and no abstention," Drilon said.

Absent senators

Only three senators -- Miriam Santiago, Pia Cayetano and Jamby Madrigal -- were absent when the chamber voted on the budget bill.

Drilon said the approved bill was the same as the one submitted by Ms Arroyo to Congress.

"The Senate feels that the continued uncertainty arising from the failure to enact a new budget is not doing the country any good," he said, adding that the country had been operating on a 2003-level budget.

"The budget is the financial roadmap of the country and a reenacted budget does not augur well for the country," Drilon said.

Drilon said the Senate move should not be seen as bowing to pressure from the President.

He said the administration and opposition senators merely set aside partisan interests to uphold the national good.

Villar said the adoption was in response to the President's call. "She called on us to speed up the passage of the budget and this is a response to her call as well as to the call of our people. We took heed of the people so that we can advance," he said.

Villar said he had broached the idea of adopting the House version to senators in the past weeks.

No pork for Lacson, Drilon, Lim

The Senate went into caucus early last night after Senator Juan Ponce Enrile complained that nothing was happening to important bills.

The senators made the decision during the caucus and later voted unanimously to adopt the House version.

Senator Panfilo Lacson asked the Senate to tell the President not to release the P240-million pork barrel allocated to him, Drilon and Senator Alfredo Lim who all had decided to forego the pork barrel.

Drilon said this should reduce the yearend budget deficit by P360 million. The amount represents the total unreleased pork barrel of the three senators.

He said Senator Juan Flavier also reiterated during the caucus his desire not to avail himself of half of his pork barrel.

Act of statesmanship

Opposition Senator Edgardo Angara described the vote as an "act of statesmanship" for the country's stability.

"A reenacted budget in effect made the whole budget a big, big pork barrel because the projects and programs already funded under that budget would have been substantially completed, and the money would have been released as savings," he said after the vote.

"As you know savings can be reshuffled and re-aligned under the Constitution, and would have given the executive ... a huge pork barrel fund," he added.

Enrile said it was in the "primordial national interest" of Congress to pass a new budget.

"I think the people are entitled to some stability in the financial operations of the government. We can no longer take for granted our fiscal position and budgetary needs. We must show our people that we are a responsible Congress," he said.


Senator Jose “Jinggoy” Estrada said he voted for the adoption of the House version because a reenacted budget was "disastrous" for the nation.

"Reenacting the same budget for the third straight time is very dangerous. I don't want to be cowed by the House," Senator Luisa "Loi" Ejercito said.

By agreeing to approve the budget, Senate Minority Leader Aquilino Pimentel Jr. said the senators had proven to Ms Arroyo that "we are committed to set our economic house in order.

"This is the first priority legislation that we need to pass over and above all the other tax measures that the President is now pushing this chamber to enact," he stressed.

Pimentel added: "This is an extraordinary act of the chamber in response to extraordinary demands of the times."

"This means that we have given the President, the chief executive officer of our country, the strength that she needs in order to address all these difficulties that we are encountering," Senator Ramon Magsaysay Jr. said.

'Wise, old men'

"The Filipino people are crying out for results and the government is being called upon to produce results in the area of meaningful reforms," Senate Majority Leader Francis Pangilinan said.

Senator Rodolfo Biazon said he wanted to vote against the measure but had to "bow to the collective wisdom of this chamber," saying that the senators were not called "wise, old men" for nothing.

"I do hope it will be understood that this is being taken because of a crisis situation," he said.

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