MANILA, Philippines—Reelected Speaker Feliciano Belmonte on Monday called on politicians to be prudent in spending public funds amid a raging scandal involving the expenditure of P10 billion in lawmakers’ pork barrel for phantom projects and services.
In his acceptance speech after beating two contenders by garnering 245 votes, Belmonte called on his colleagues to “nurture a legal ethos that mandates and extols prudence in spending, and transparency and accountability in the use of public funds, especially in the use of the Priority Development Assistance Fund, or PDAF.”
The PDAF is the pork barrel of P70 million a year for each member of the House and P200 million to each member of the Senate to finance their pet projects.
Belmonte brought up the matter in the wake of the widening investigation into a private company’s alleged siphoning off of some P10 billion in pork into its bank accounts with the collaboration of five senators and 23 members of the House over the last 10 years.
“A strict obedience to much tightened guidelines on the use of public resources is the strongest guarantee of efficiency, ensuring that every peso spent generates exponential returns for our people,” Belmonte said.
Belmonte defeated San Juan Rep. Ronaldo Zamora and Leyte Rep. Ferdinand Martin Romualdez to lead the House for a third time since 2001.
He took his oath before Cebu Rep. Anthony Gullas Jr., who at 28 is the youngest member of the House.
Belmonte said his pork allocations since becoming a member of the House in 1992 had been “spent strictly within my district in Quezon City, always subject to public scrutiny, and sometimes to criticism.”
Belmonte’s reclaiming the speakership came as no surprise in a House dominated by the ruling Liberal Party of the administration.
The surprise came in the selection of the minority leader, which, until the last votes were counted, had been a toss-up between Zamora and Romualdez.
In the election for Speaker, Zamora came second to Belmonte, edging out Romualdez by only two votes, 18-16.
Under the rules, the contender who gets the second highest number of votes wins the minority leadership.
Zamora got the upper hand two days earlier when he received the support of the seven-member Makabayan bloc. As supposedly agreed upon, Zamora and Romualdez were to meet on Sunday to determine who had the edge.
Had the matter been settled, there was no more need for Zamora and Romualdez to contest the position during the full-house vote on Monday, according to a representative who was in touch with both camps.
But that was not the case. Minutes after Taguig City Rep. Lino Cayetano nominated Zamora for Speaker, Surigao del Sur Rep. Philip Pichay took the floor and nominated Romualdez.
Voting commenced and it was clear that Belmonte was headed for a runaway victory. That being the case, the focus shifted to the outcome of the contest for the minority leadership. At one point, Zamora and Romualdez were tied, each with 14 votes.
But by placing second to Belmonte in the contest for the speakership, Zamora automatically clinched the minority leadership.
In his speech, Belmonte promised to collaborate with the Senate and the executive branch to “craft a legislative agenda that will generate greater economic activity in our country.”
“Reducing the impediments to the ease of doing business even as we rationalize our incentives framework, and creating a more even and stable regulatory framework that will rid the private sector of its fears from funding our economic expansion, especially in such critical areas as power and energy, are essential if we are to sustain our growth and employ the jobless,” he said.