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Lagman says public funds being used for Cha-cha drive

By: Gabriel Pabico Lalu - CDN Digital Correspondent | January 09,2024 - 09:24 PM


Albay 2nd District Representative Edcel Lagman

MANILA, Philippines — Albay 2nd District Representative Edcel Lagman alleges that funds from the public coffers are being utilized to advocate for charter change (Cha-cha).

However, Ako Bicol party-list Representative Elizaldy Co maintains that Lagman is specifically referring to a budget allocated for the Commission on Elections (Comelec).

In a statement on Tuesday, Lagman again hit the People’s Initiative drive to amend the 1987 Constitution, saying that the “charter change rampage has a surfeit of funds.”

Lagman was referring to a supposed P14 billion item in the 2024 General Appropriations Act (GAA) or the annual budget, which was inserted during the bicameral conference committee hearing to fund Cha-cha.

“Embedded in the 2024 General Appropriations Act is the total amount of about P14-B for the ‘Conduct and supervision of elections, referenda, recall votes and plebiscites,’ P12-B of which was inserted by the bicameral conference committee under the budget of the Commission of Elections,” Lagman said.

“The appropriations for these activities in the 2023 GAA was only P2-B, which was increased by about 700% this year.  The huge allocation of P14-B is bigger than the appropriations for the Department of Migrant Workers (DMW) with a total appropriation of P9,896,172,000.00,” he added.

But Co — who heads the House committee on appropriations tasked to craft the budget — said that Lagman is lying, as the GAA items referred to came from Comelec’s request to restore its budget.

Co said no less than Comelec Chairman George Garcia personally appealed to the House to restore its budget, prompting the appropriations head to ask if Lagman is “sleeping on the job.”

“Comelec Chairman George Garcia personally appealed during the budget hearing in Congress to restore their budget. Congressman [Joseph Steven] Caraps Paduano, who presided over that meeting, attests that such request was approved by the committee and reflected in the minutes. Was Congressman Lagman sleeping on the job that he missed it?” Co asked in a separate statement.

“Comelec and Chairman George Garcia are very thankful to the Bicam team for accommodating their request.  Go ahead and ask them,” he added.

Co maintained that the supposed P12 billion insertion by the bicameral conference committee is just another set of “wild and irresponsible accusations” from Lagman.

“This is Comelec’s budget. No other agency, not even Congress, can touch or release even one centavo of it.  Is Congressman Lagman saying that Comelec commissioners would use those funds for charter change? If he can’t prove it, then he better shut up,” Co claimed.

“Districts who lose representation for one reason or another deserve to have special elections where they can choose their leaders. That’s the purpose of the budget for the ‘Conduct and supervision of elections, referenda, recall votes and plebiscites,’” he added.

No request from Garcia?

But Lagman, in another statement to dispute Co, said that he had asked Comelec’s Garcia through a mutual friend if it was true that there was a request to restore the poll body’s budget.

Lagman said that Garcia supposedly denied the request for an insertion.

“The Commission on Elections, through Chairman George Garcia, did not request for the P12-B augmentation for the subject activities, including the plebiscites for charter change.  I have asked Chairman Garcia, through a mutual friend, whether he requested this huge increase, and he said no,” Lagman said.

Lagman even sent in a record of the conversation between his mutual friend and Garcia.

“Chairman Garcia: Hindi pre. Kaya lang dun sa President’s budget, tinaggalan kami ng P17.4 b[illion] kaya binalik lang yung tinaggal na paulit-ulit naming sinasabi sa budget hearing na sana maibalik.  Kaya kulang pa ng P5.4 b[illion],” Lagman relayed.

Such an admission from Garcia, Lagman said, showed that the Comelec’s request was not fully granted.

“What Chairman Garcia requested to be restored was inadequately given back to the Comelec and what was inserted was for the subject exorbitant augmentation, which he did not request,” Lagman said.

“Chairman Co must be man enough to admit candidly this furtive and malevolent insertion. This P12-B insertion was not in response to the Comelec’s request to restore its budget which was reduced in the submission of the National Expenditure Program (NEP). What was given to Comelec was not requested by it in the form of additional appropriation for the charter change agenda,” he added.

Reporters then asked Garcia about the real score, to which he said he did ask for the House to put back the P17.4 billion removed from the Comelec.  However, parts of the fund were not restored.

“Yes. Paulit ulit ko binabanggit during our budget hearing na sana maibalik ang P17.4-B na tinanggal sa amin.  Cong. Paduano moved to restore and the Committee hearing our budget approved the motion.  We thank the bicam for restoring the said amount, although unfortunately hindi P17.4-B,” Garcia noted.

Lagman for his part claimed that it is impossible for him to be sleeping on the job when he has not been invited as a member of the bicameral conference committee that tackled the then-proposed 2024 budget.

“How could I be sleeping on the job when the insertion was made by the bicameral conference committee of which I was not appointed as a member after years of being a conferee as former chair of the appropriations committee?” Lagman asked.

The House leadership last December announced their intention to revisit Cha-cha proposals to amend the supposedly restrictive economic provisions in the 1987 Constitution.

In a speech last December 12, Speaker Ferdinand Martin Romualdez referred to two resolutions passed by the chamber in early 2023, which call for a constitutional convention to amend the constitution.

However, Senior Deputy Speaker Aurelio Gonzales clarified that the House may be pursuing a People’s Initiative instead — one of the three modes to pursue Cha-cha — after previous attempts failed.


Charter change cost to hit P15 billion

Gonzales: Cha-cha bid is not to make lawmakers become prime ministers

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TAGS: budget, charter change, Comelec, Congress, Rep. Edcel Lagman

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