Lacson says proposed 2020 budget still tainted with pork barrel

Robie de Guzman   •   December 11, 2019   •   804

Senator Panfilo Lacson

MANILA, Philippines – Senator Panfilo Lacson on Wednesday said the proposed 2020 national budget signed by the congressional bicameral conference committee is still tainted with pork barrel.

In a statement, Lacson noted that “bad habits are indeed hard to break,” as he revealed some of the budget insertions allegedly made by the House of Representatives before the bicameral conference committee approved the report on the proposed P4.1-trillion national budget for 2020.

“It is revolting to note that legislators keep on dipping their dirty fingers on our national budget in spite of pending cases involving the same issue,” he said.

The senator said he did not attend the signing of the report on the budget bill which was held during a meeting at a hotel in Makati City.

He mentioned that one reason why he skipped the meeting was because his office received a USB containing two files – the “Source” file and the “List” file – from the Lower House on Tuesday night.

“Our preliminary scrutiny of the last-minute insertions made by the House would indicate that the Source File is the list of 1,253 budget items worth P83.219B that was apparently used as the congressmen’s ‘source’ of their ‘list’ of 742 projects worth P16.345B that were inserted in the bicam report that was signed by both panels this morning,” he said.

“Since there is no preliminary explanation from the House regarding the two files, we cannot ascertain if indeed only P16.345B or the bigger amount of P83.219B was inserted at the last minute prior to the bicam signing,” he added.

He continued with: “What is clear, though, is that there are still lump sums and vaguely described projects that are now part of the bicam report.”

Lacson said that their initial check of the files showed that the top provinces with huge allocations include:

  • Albay – P670M
  • Cavite – P580M
  • Sorsogon – P570M
  • Batangas – P502M
  • Bulacan – P440M
  • Pangasinan – P420M
  • Cebu – P410M

He also claimed that 117 flood control projects worth P3.179-billion dominated the insertions, “with eight projects uniformly budgeted at P60 million each.”

“There are more corruption-driven insertions in the Files sent to us that I have not mentioned. Thus, we will continue to diligently scrutinize it and inform the DBM and the Office of the President as I have high hopes that President Rodrigo Duterte will again display his aversion to corruption,” he added.

“Pork is here to stay. I hope the President will again exercise his political will in vetoing line items that will obviously waste people’s tax money,” he further stated.

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)

Several senators laud signing of Anti-Terror Act despite oppositions

Robie de Guzman   •   July 3, 2020

MANILA, Philippines – Several senators have lauded President Rodrigo Duterte for signing the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020 despite oppositions coming from different sectors.

“Much credit goes to PRRD (President Rodrigo Roa Duterte). With all the pressure coming from different directions against the signing of the Anti-Terrorism Bill into law, at the end of the day, it is his strong political will that mattered the most,” Senator Panfilo Lacson said in a statement Friday.

“I cannot imagine this measure being signed under another administration. If only for this, I take my hat off to the president,” he added.

Lacson, one of the principal authors and sponsor of the measure in the Senate, vowed that he would “exert extra effort in guarding against possible abuse in its implementation, notwithstanding all the safeguards incorporated in this landmark legislation.”

Senate President Vicente Sotto III also expressed elation over the enactment of the controversial bill.

“I am glad that the president has sifted through the rubble and saw the importance of the law!” he said in a message to reporters.

Senator Francis Tolentino also called the signing of the law as “very timely” and “historic” as the nation needed the measure.

“It just goes to show that a stable peace and order climate should go hand [in hand] with economic rejuvenation post COVID-19,” he added.

The new law repeals the Human Security Act of 2007 and penalizes those who will propose, incite, conspire, participate in the planning, training, preparation and facilitation of a terrorist act; as well as those who will provide material support to terrorists, and recruit members in a terrorist organization.

The measure allows suspected terrorists to be detained for up to 24 days without warrant. It also authorizes the Anti-Money Laundering Council to freeze the assets and accounts of individuals or groups tagged as terrorists.

Before it was enacted, the bill was met with widespread opposition from different groups who raised concern over its provisions that could be abused by authorities, stifle dissent and spur human rights violations.

But Sotto said the law has enough safeguards to prevent enforcers from abusing their authority.

“It’s full of safeguards but strong against terrorists. Unlike the old law, it was subject to abuse by the terrorists,” Sotto said.

Lacson has repeatedly defended the measure, saying it has enough protection to ensure the rights of those detained.

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