Lacson calls on colleagues to bare amendments in 2020 budget bill

Robie de Guzman   •   November 5, 2019   •   401

Senator Panfilo Lacson

MANILA, Philippines – Senator Panfilo Lacson on Tuesday challenged his fellow lawmakers to bare the amendments they made to the proposed 2020 national budget following his allegations that billions-worth of “pork” funds were “parked” in the budget bill.

Lacson said such a show of transparency would dispel suspicions that the amendments are stained with “pork barrel” funds.

“We should make everything public. That includes all amendments we submit, whether institutional or individual,” Lacson said in an interview on DZBB radio.

“Most if not all lawmakers have their own websites. Why not post their amendments there, for the public to scrutinize?” he added.

Lacson lamented that in previous years, some lawmakers submit their amendments to their respective finance or appropriations chairpersons without having them go through floor deliberations.

“Instead of having their amendments undergo scrutiny in-floor deliberations, some lawmakers propose their amendments verbally, or even scribble them on napkins,” he said.

The lawmaker said that during Congress’ deliberation on the 2019 budget, he used his website to post his proposed institutional changes.

Institutional amendments pertain to programs and projects that have undergone planning and vetting, and are based on requests from concerned implementing agencies.

Lacson said such institutional amendments are proposed by lawmakers who find merit in them after vetting with relevant agencies.

Individual amendments, meanwhile, pertain to projects based mainly on lawmakers’ intervention and are considered legislators’ pet projects.

“In most cases, these do not involve consultations with the implementing agencies concerned, nor are they part of the Local Development Plans of the Local Government Units,” Lacson said.

He added that such programs can be considered pork barrel, based on the 2013 ruling of the Supreme Court that deems as unconstitutional projects that are “whimsical and arbitrary.”

The 2013 Supreme Court ruling declaring pork barrel as unconstitutional covers “all informal practices of similar import and effect, which the Court similarly deems to be acts of grave abuse of discretion amounting to lack or excess of jurisdiction.”

In pushing for transparency in the national budget, Lacson said people have the right to know where their taxes are going, especially amid the country’s growing debt that now stands at more than P7.9 trillion.

“The national budget involves the people’s money. It should benefit the people and not a few senators or congressmen or even government officials who implement projects. And the budget is funded by our taxes, as well as borrowings if our tax collections fall short,” he said.

READ: Sen. Lacson urged to identify questionable P20-B in proposed 2020 national budget

Lacson on US bill seeking suspension of security aid to PH: ‘Not only our loss but theirs as well’

Robie de Guzman   •   September 24, 2020

MANILA, Philippines – Senator Panfilo Lacson on Thursday expressed his belief that the proposal to suspend the security assistance provided by the United States to the Philippines “will not only be our loss but theirs as well.”

Lacson issued the statement after a bill seeking such move was introduced to US Congress.

While he recognized the authority of members of US Congress to file a legislative measure “under any circumstance,” the senator said that a major part of the security assistance being extended to the Philippines is used to combat terrorism.

Lacson, who chairs the Philippine Senate committee on national defense, stressed that terrorism knows no borders and timing, and that the US lawmakers “know that for a fact.”

Pennsylvania Representative Susan Wild earlier pushed the proposed Philippine Human Rights Act before the US Congress which seeks to block security funding to the Philippines until the government has made “certain reforms to the military and police forces.”

“Across the Philippines, Rodrigo Duterte’s brutal regime is using the pretext of a so-called “Anti-Terrorism Law” to ramp up efforts targeting labor organizers, workers, and political opponents… In response to these abuses, I introduced the Philippine Human Rights Act to block U.S. funding for police or military assistance to the Philippines outlining a series of basic criteria which would have to be met in order to resume such funding,” she said.

Lacson said that as part of the legislative process, the bill will have “to go through the mill of first reading and referral, committee hearings and floor debates.”

“If adopted and approved, the said bill — H.R. 8313 — will not only be our loss but theirs as well, considering that a major part of the security assistance being extended to the Philippines is used to combat terrorism, which knows no borders and timing. And they know that for a fact,” he added.

Lacson further said that in deliberating on the bill, US lawmakers may have to consider and resolve as a legal issue the existing Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) between the Manila and Washington.

The VFA came into force in 1999. It outlines the guidelines about the treatment of their troops when visiting the US or the Philippines. It includes provisions on visa and passport policies for US troops and the American government’s right to retain jurisdiction over its personnel, among others.

In February, the Philippines moved to terminate the accord but was later suspended for six months in June. – RRD (with details from Correspondent Harlene Delgado)

Lacson tells DICT to aim for faster PH internet speed

Robie de Guzman   •   September 17, 2020

MANILA, Philippines – Senator Panfilo Lacson, chairman of the Senate committee on national defense and security, on Thursday urged the Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT) to aim for an “excellent” speed of internet connection.

Lacson made the remark in response to the view of DICT Secretary Gregorio Honasan II that the Philippines “is not doing too badly” in terms of internet speed performance during his agency’s 2021 budget hearing in Congress.

“With all due respect to a highly regarded Cavalier and distinguished former Senate colleague, “not so bad” may sound worse than ‘not so good,’” he said in a statement.

Honasan earlier said that while other countries have 55 megabytes per second (mbps) internet speeds, the 3 to 7mbps internet speed in the country “is not that bad” amid complaints over slow speed.

“In the middle of a pandemic when the order of the day is virtual communication, what we want to hear, at least realistically, is ‘good enough,’” Lacson said.

“Of course, it goes without saying, ‘very good’ or even ‘excellent’ is what we all want to hear from DICT. Clearly, there is much room for improvement,” he added.

According to the DICT, the country’s current internet speed could reach up to 25.07mbps, compared to the maximum 7.91mbps in 2016.

The agency said the country’s slower internet connection is due to lack of telecommunications infrastructure compared to other countries that have fix broadbands which require lots of telecommunication towers and fiber optic cables.

Sotto, Lacson want fresh probe into alleged PhilHealth corruption

Robie de Guzman   •   July 24, 2020

MANILA, Philippines – Senate President Vicente Sotto III on Friday said a fresh investigation should be conducted into the alleged corruption at the Philippine Health Insurance Corporation (Philhealth) following the resignation of one of its officers.

“There must be a full blown Senate investigation. Allegations and denials abound therefore diligence is necessary,” Sotto said in a statement.

“Where there is smoke, there is fire!” he added.

Lawyer Thorrsson Montes Keith resigned from his post in PhilHealth citing “widespread corruption” in the agency as one of his reasons for quitting. He also said in his resignation letter that the mandatory payment of PhilHealth contribution by overseas Filipinos workers was “unconstitutional” and against his personal values to let OFWs “pay for the spillages” of the agency.

He also claimed that there is rampant and patent unfairness in the agency’s promotion process, and that his salary and hazard pay has not been on time since he started investigating Philhealth officers as its “anti-fraud legal officer.”

According to Senator Panfilo Lacson, he is now drafting a resolution seeking for an inquiry into the issue.

“I am now drafting a resolution calling for a Senate Committee of the Whole inquiry. As expressed by SP Sotto to me last night, this inquiry will be one of the Senate’s top agenda after our session resumes on Monday,” Lacson said in a separate statement.

Reports quoting sources said that corruption claims were the topic of an online meeting that led to a shouting match between Philhealth officials on Thursday evening.

“That such corruption occurred amid the COVID-19 crisis makes it more disgusting and abominable,” Lacson said.

“Nakakasuya na sobra. Needless to say, there is urgency that the Senate has to act on the matter immediately, as part of its oversight mandate, having passed the Universal Health Law,” he added.

Last year, the Senate launched a probe into alleged conflict of interest between PhilHealth and the Department of Health. The investigation also covered DOH contracts that went to pharmaceutical firms owned by relatives of Health Secretary Francisco Duque III.

PhilHealth President and CEO Ricardo Morales earlier denied claims of widespread corruption in the agency and called on Keith to substantiate his allegations. He also said that Keith only raised the issue after his application for another post at the agency was turned down.

Morales also denied the alleged resignation of two other PhilHealth officers due to corruption allegations. He said his head executive assistant resigned to pursue his doctoral studies while a corporate counsel denied any news of quitting his post. – RRD (with details from Correspondent Harlene Delgado)

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