(STAR) By Jess Diaz - The Senate has inserted more than P20 billion in additional pork barrel in the proposed P1.415-trillion 2009 national budget.

The insertions brought to a deadlock the Senate-House talks on next year’s budget, resulting in the failure of Congress to approve the outlay before they adjourned their last session for the year last Wednesday.

The conference panel, co-chaired by Quirino Rep. Junie Cua, appropriations committee chairman, and his Senate counterpart, Sen. Edgardo Angara, met only once, last Tuesday.

The talks immediately hit a blank wall as congressmen demanded to know the details of the senatorial insertions.

It was Angara’s finance committee that put together the senators’ version of the 2009 budget.

Their insertions were taken from reductions they made in agency budgets and lump sum appropriations. The cuts were then realigned to their pet projects and favorite agencies.

By tradition and practice, insertions and realignments are treated as part of the congressional pork barrel.

Even without augmentations, the pork barrel is already bloated as it dispenses P200 million a year for each of 24 senators and P70 million for each of 238 House members, for a combined total of P21.4 billion.

The senatorial insertions included a P250-million augmentation for Aurora Special Economic Zone Authority, which is a creation of Angara (Aurora is his home province); and a P329-million increase for Cagayan Economic Zone Authority, a creation of Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile (Cagayan is his home province).

But the biggest of the senatorial insertions, also known as “initiatives,” is a P10-billion economic stimulus fund. This is a new item in the budget that is not contained in President Arroyo’s proposal and in the House version.

The second biggest is a P6-billion augmentation to the funds of the office of the secretary (osec) of the Department of Education.

Senators also augmented the osec funds of the Department of Transportation and Communications by P1.4 billion, Department of Foreign Affairs by P856.5 million, Department of Trade and Industry by P144 million, Department of Health (osec) by P190.3 million, Department of Labor and Employment by P77 million, and Technical Education and Skills Development Authority by P84 million.

They increased the lump-sum priority development assistance fund by P1 billion to P7.3 billion. The fund is part of the annual congressional pork barrel and is used for the so-called “soft” projects of senators and congressmen like medical assistance.

They also increased their own budget by P250 million to P2.1 billion and funds for the Senate Electoral Tribunal by P34 million to P119.8 million.

The Angara committee added P361.7 million to the budget of the University of the Philippines, bloating it to P6.8 billion. Angara was UP president during the Marcos years.

UP’s budget dwarfs the outlays of other big state universities and colleges, where poorer students enroll.

For instance, Polytechnic University of the Philippines, which received an additional P19 million from the Senate, will have a budget of P654.4 million, less than a tenth of what UP will have. Philippine Normal University, which will get a P15-million increase, will have P282.4 million.

The Senate slashed various appropriations to fund its insertions. The biggest reduction of P10 billion was taken from the debt service fund.

The other cuts were taken from osec funds in the Department of Public Works and Highways (P3.6 billion), Department of Agrarian Reform (P3.2 billion), Department of Environment and Natural Resources (P1.2 billion), Department of Social Welfare and Development (P243 million), Department of Justice (P286.8 million), and Department of Energy (P61.4 million).

The agriculture and fisheries modernization program lost P2.5 billion in the senators’ version of the 2009 budget.

Local government units lost a total of P3.9 billion – P2.9 billion in “financial subsidy” and P1 billion for Kilos Asenso program, which funds LGU projects provided they put up counterpart money.

Other agencies that senators took funds from included National Electrification Administration, P240 million; National Housing Authority, P300 million; Bureau of Fire Protection, P191 million; Philippine Navy, P50 million; Armed Forces of the Philippines (general headquarters), P25 million; and Bureau of Immigration, P24.3 million.

Senatorial budget initiatives were at the center of a controversy a few months ago when opposition Sen. Panfilo Lacson exposed a P200-million insertion then Senate President Manuel Villar made in the 2008 budget for a road project in Parañaque.

The controversy has led to the ouster of Villar and his replacement with Enrile.

A few years back, Lacson exposed senatorial pork barrel augmentations amounting to P3 billion. Lacson does not avail himself of pork barrel funds. – Jess Diaz

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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