Amid the Senate squabble over the unequal distribution of monetary benefits, senatorial candidate JC de los Reyes said he intends to introduce “thriftiness” into the legislature by abolishing the pork barrel whose use he described as “immoral.”
That would be one of the first things he would do if he is elected, De los Reyes of the Ang Kapatiran Party told a public forum conducted by the GMA show Unang Hirit on Wednesday.
De los Reyes took the same stance when he ran unsuccessfully for president in 2010.
Two other senatorial candidates, Zambales Rep. Milagros Magsaysay and party-list representative Teodoro Casiño (Bayan Muna), said they would also favor the abolition of the pork barrel, which they had received in the past but which has lately been withheld from them.
But another candidate, Paolo Benigno “Bam” Aquino, a cousin of President Aquino, said he would want the pork barrel retained as it can be used for good endeavors.
Senators get P200 million a year in pork barrel funds—officially called the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF)—which they can allocate for any project they fancy. House members or district representatives have access to P70 million in PDAF a year for the same purpose. Apart from pork, lawmakers also receive funds for operating expenses, as well as other allowances and honoraria on top of their monthly salaries.
Senators recently found themselves being ranged against one another after it was disclosed that Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile had released additional funds for maintenance and other operating expenses, taken from the Senate’s savings, but gave all senators, save for four members, an additional P1.6 million. The four, who got only P250,000, protested the disparity.
De los Reyes said the practice of distributing pork barrel takes money away from more pressing projects, with lawmakers tending to spend on programs that would boost their political stock.
“It’s left to the discretion of legislators who are politically motivated to put the money in projects that would make them popular. That’s the problem, it’s an immoral system,” he said.
He said the money should go to priority projects that respond to the real needs of the real poor, not to undertakings favored by lawmakers.
Magsaysay said that if she had her way, the legislature would not be given pork barrel.
“The job of the legislative branch is to make laws, amend laws, repeal laws,” she said. The disbursement of the pork barrel is more of an executive function and should be exclusive to it so that lawmakers would not be confused about their real duties, she said.
“Some people run as congressmen or senators because of the PDAF. So they have a wrong set of priorities as to what are their roles. They already think that if you’re a congressman or senator, your primary role is to undertake projects,” she said.
Magsaysay has complained that the pork barrel for her district has been withheld since the Aquino administration took over, and believes the move was political because she was an ally of former President Gloria Arroyo.
Casiño said a legislator who is performing well would not need any pork barrel.
“It’s about time that congressmen and senators focus on their jobs as policymakers rather than as project implementors,” he said.