Lacson calls on colleagues to bare amendments in 2020 budget bill

Robie de Guzman   •   November 5, 2019   •   576

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: Senate has no choice but to give order on pork import tariffs a chance

Robie de Guzman   •   April 21, 2021

MANILA, Philippines – Senator Panfilo Lacson on Wednesday said that the Senate has no choice but to give a chance to President Rodrigo Duterte’s Executive Order 128, which mandates the temporary increase of pork importations at lower tariff rates.

“First, the Senate has no choice since the reduced tariff rates and the increased in-quota MAV [minimum access volume] have already taken effect,” Lacson said in a statement.

Lacson issued the statement after Duterte asked senators to consider his order’s intended effects, which include addressing the shortage in swine meat, stabilizing the price of pork meat, and minimizing the inflation rate, as mentioned by the Department of Agriculture and the President’s Economic Team.

The senator also lamented the lack of inter-departmental consultation regarding the move to reduce tariff rates on pork importation.

“Kung meron lang sanang nangyaring inter-departmental courtesy consultation, since EO 128 is a consequence of a delegated authority granted by Congress to the President anyway, we could have given our input based on our own consultations and research,” he said.

Lacson reiterated that the National Economic Development Authority’s (NEDA) conclusion that demand for pork has not changed in spite of the pandemic is “flawed.”

“I had pointed out during the Senate Committee of the Whole hearing, the 50% contraction registered by the hotel and restaurant operations should easily affect demand since the pre-pandemic 8.2 million foreign tourists are now eating pork somewhere else outside the country,” he said.

“Thus, at 15 kilograms of pork consumption per capita as estimated would mean 120 million kilograms less pork. That should be substantial enough to consider when they came up with the 350,000,000 kilograms in additional in-quota MAV allocation,” he added.

Lacson said Duterte’s appeal “might as well be directed” toward the 80,000 backyard hog raisers, their families, farmhands, and all others now being affected by the EO, both directly and indirectly.

Duterte made the appeal after the Senate Committee of the Whole adopted a resolution calling for the withdrawal of Executive Order 128, which mandates that the tariff rate for imported pork meat within quota or minimum access volume (MAV) be reduced to 5 percent during the first three months upon the order’s effectivity, and to 10 percent in during the months four to 12.

For pork imports outside the quota, the order cuts the tariff to 15 percent during the first three months upon its effectivity, and 20 percent for the months four to 12.

The order also increases to 350,000 metric tons from 54,000 metric tons of the total volume of pork that may be imported to the Philippines.

Malacañang earlier urged senators to “revisit the EO in two months to assess whether the aforesaid intended effects have been realized/met.”

Senate probe on alleged ‘tongpats’ scheme in pork importation pushed

Robie de Guzman   •   March 16, 2021

MANILA, Philippines – Senator Panfilo Lacson is pushing for a Senate investigation into the activities of an alleged syndicate within the Department of Agriculture (DA) that stands to gain billions of pesos in ‘tongpats’ or kickback scheme from the agency’s proposal to lower tariff rates on and to increase the volume of imported pork products due to the impact of the African swine fever (ASF) outbreak.

In a statement on Tuesday, Lacson said the alleged anomalies amount to a “triple whammy” as they not only threaten the local hog industry but raise health concerns and cost the government forgone revenues, as well.

“We should unmask who is/are behind this scheme no matter how powerful and influential he may be with this administration,” Lacson said in a radio interview.

“I want to see even a whiff of enthusiasm from the President to order the Presidential Anti-Corruption Commission (PACC) and other concerned agencies to investigate, not to mention heed the call of the Senate to disapprove the DA’s recommendation to reduce the tariff and increase the volume of pork importation. Let’s see,” he added.

The senator said he already talked to Senate President Vicente Sotto III for the conduct of a Senate inquiry into the alleged anomaly and to get the documents related to the issue.

“So far, we have received documents from the Bureau of Customs and DA. Still, we need more data to get to the bottom of the anomaly,” he added.

Lacson, during Monday’s Senate session, revealed that there have been reports of certain individuals within the DA imposing a kickback scheme amounting to P5 to P7 for every kilo of imported pork.

With DA’s proposal to increase the maximum volume of imported meat from 54,000 to 400,000, the syndicate could easily earn as much as P6 billion a year, he said.

The senator said this practice has been going on for several years now. Citing as an example, he said that between June and October 2018, imported pork from banned countries due to the ASF like Belgium, Hungary, Germany, and China flooded the local market which prompted the issuance of a memorandum order by then DA Secretary Emmanuel Piñol.

Lacson said DA Secretary William Dar should know or at least have heard of this supposed issue within his department, particularly in the MAV Management Committee, headed by Acting Undersecretary William Medrano and composed of the Bureau of Animal Industry (BAI) and the National Meat Inspection Service (NMIS) – along with the “SOPs” in the allocation of quota to favored importers and the issuance of the Phyto-Sanitary Import Clearance (PSIC).

The Senate on Monday adopted a resolution urging President Rodrigo Duterte to declare a state of calamity in the country due to the threat of ASF.

The same resolution also expressed the sense of the upper chamber to persuade Duterte to disapprove the DA recommendation.

Lacson called on the PACC to look into the alleged ‘tongpats’ scheme in the DA.

“Gusto kong manawagan sa PACC to conduct a motu proprio investigation to find out kung totoo ba na at current tariff rates ang sa volume 54,000 metric tons, kung may P5-7 tong-pats per kilo, dapat alamin natin ito. Kaya siguro nagpipilit na ibaba ang tariff at itaas ang volume. Kasi katakot-takot ang balak kitain ng mga sangkot,” he said.

Lacson, Pangilinan slam Parlade over comment against reporter

Aileen Cerrudo   •   February 5, 2021

Lt. Gen. Antonio Parlade Jr.

MANILA, Philippines—Senators Panfilo Lacson and Francis ‘Kiko’ Pangilinan criticized Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) Southern Luzon Command Lt. Gen. Antonio Parlade Jr. for his comment against a journalist.

Parlade claimed that the journalist is aiding terrorist groups which drew ire from various groups, lawmakers, and netizens.

Lacson, in a statement, called Parlade’s remarks as ‘careless and insensitive.’

“Accusing a journalist of ‘aiding the terrorists by spreading lies,’ assuming that such comment was accurately attributed to him, surely does not help the government to convince the magistrates of the Supreme Court to rule in its favor,” he said.

Meanwhile, Pangilinan believes Parlade should be removed from office because of his unprofessionalism.

“Enough of this unprofessionalism and lack of discipline with such baseless, erroneous public statements. Like AFP Intel Chief Luna, Lorenzana should show Parlade the door,” Pangilinan said in a statement.

In a post on social media Parlade accused reporter Tetch Torres-Tupas of “aiding terrorists by spreading lies” after Tupas published an article on jailed Aetas. AAC (with reports from Harlene Delgado)

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