Jumping the gun on the lawmakers, Malacañang is submitting to Congress next week “policy recommendations” to tighten up the rules on the disbursement of funds from the graft-tainted pork barrel.
The measures include limiting the menu of projects that can be funded by pork, accreditation of the civil service organizations by the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) and limiting the number of implementing agencies, according to presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda and Budget Secretary Florencio Abad.
But if Sen. Franklin Drilon, touted to be elected Senate President in the 16th Congress, would have his way, the pork barrel could simply be taken out of the national budget instead of passing a new law that would abolish the program, now at the center of a scandal involving P10 billion in patronage funds allegedly siphoned off by a businesswoman, Janet Lim-Napoles, through bogus NGOs using her extensive connections in Congress and in the government.
Next Tuesday, a day after his address to a joint session of Congress, President Aquino will submit to Congress the proposed P2.268-trillion national budget for 2014, which contains a separate item worth P27-billion for the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF), or pork barrel.
No Aquino stand yet
The so-called Makabayan bloc in the House of Representatives and the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines have called for the abolition of the PDAF following the disclosure of a government investigation of the racket that involved the shares of the pork of five senators and 23 representatives.
Lacierda told reporters on Thursday that Aquino had not yet taken a position on the matter.
“We have not discussed it with the President, so I am not in a position to say what the position is. However, my understanding (Wednesday) in the press briefing of (Budget) Secretary Butch Abad, (is) that they have made some policy recommendations … to the President,” Lacierda said.
He tossed back the question of abolishing the pork barrel to Congress.
“We wouldn’t want to wade into that debate because that’s primarily the call of [the legislators],” he said.
Lacson, Arroyo did it
“(Former) Sen. (Panfilo) Lacson did it. Is it something that is worth emulating? That is the call and discretion of each and every legislator,” he said.
Former Senators Lacson and Joker Arroyo did not collect their share of pork during their terms, from 2001 to 2013.
Drilon agreed that abolishing the pork barrel is a matter only for Congress to decide.
“This is a decision of both Houses. If one House does not agree, then you cannot abolish (the pork barrel), which is part of the general appropriations act,” Drilon told Senate reporters on Thursday.
It is also unnecessary to pass a new law to abolish the PDAF, he said.
“We just have to delete (the PDAF) from the (general appropriations act) and it will be gone,” he said.
But that is a long shot, Drilon said, as legislators, especially the members of the House, need funds to finance projects for their constituencies.
“I think the only way is to limit the use of the PDAF so we can minimize the abuses and the misuses of [the fund],” he said. “In other words, be very strict with the menu to minimize what are perceived to be the abuses of the PDAF.”
But Sen. Grace Poe wants the introduction of regulations to stop the abuses.
Speaking to reporters in Mabalacat City after launching a program for the families of migrant workers, Poe said she and Sen. Francis Escudero had filed a resolution for an investigation by the Senate blue ribbon committee of the pork scam allegedly orchestrated by businesswoman Janet Lim-Napoles.
Poe said the National Bureau of Investigation of the Department of Justice should be given a free hand in investigating the racket.
“If the allegations of a scam are true, then [an investigation] in aid of legislation is really needed to prevent [a repeat of this scandal],” Poe said.
While President Aquino has not taken a position on the pork controversy, he appears to be not keen on letting go of his own pork barrel.
Deputy presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte said on Tuesday that Aquino had a lot of uses for the President’s Social Fund, which channels assistance to the families of soldiers, policemen or government workers killed in the line of duty.
Lacierda told reporters that the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) headed by Abad had made some recommendations on the procedure for the release of pork barrel to the projects of senators and members of the House.
“What’s in the budget is (the proposal for) accreditation, but we are putting together some more recommendations—limited menu, limited implementing agencies, etc.,” Abad said in a text message.
The additional recommendations will be presented to Congress during budget hearings, he said.
“There’s a policy recommendation of accrediting the CSOs (civil service organizations) with the DSWD, subject to a standard to be determined by the DBM and DSWD,” Lacierda said.
Under the pork barrel system, each senator is allotted P200 million, while a House member gets P70 million.
Lacierda said that the matter of deleting the pork barrel item from the budget bill is up to Congress.
“Remember, the GAA (General Appropriations Act) is a law in itself. If it’s passed, it becomes a law. So Congress decides …. We just submit our budget,” he said.
“The budget goes through a lengthy process by the House and the Senate to review and question the budget. So we will have a budget season right after [the State of the Nation Address],” he said.
The matter of abolishing PDAF, then, should be left to the “discretion” of the legislators, he said.—With a report from Tonette Orejas, Inquirer Central Luzon
Originally posted at 10:01 pm | Thursday, July 18, 2013