BACOLOD CITY—They want more projects and to keep their pork.
At least 29 congressmen, united by what they said was a common desire to bring more projects to the Visayas, formed what they call the Visayan Bloc on Wednesday to push for legislation that would advance the welfare of the Visayas.
Aside from that, however, the group is likely to stand united in defense of the controversial priority development assistance fund (PDAF), the new official term for pork barrel.
Iloilo Rep. Jerry Treñas, one of the leaders of the bloc, said while the congressmen support safeguards against abuses in the use of the pork barrel, they are not likely to support its abolition.
Treñas said the issue of pork barrel has not been officially discussed by the Visayan Bloc, but it is the general sentiment of members of the bloc to oppose proposals to abolish it.
“Our districts and constituents have benefited from (pork barrel),” said Treñas. He said pork is used for scholarships, hospitalization and infrastructure projects.
Negros Occidental Rep. Alfredo Abelardo Benitez, another leader of the Visayan Bloc, said the group was formed to lobby for government agencies to allocate priority programs and resources for the Visayas.
“We want to be recognized as a legitimate and strong bloc in the House of Representatives,” said Benitez. He said the bloc would vote as one on “important pieces of legislation,” but not on “issues that require party decisions.”
He described the group as “nonpartisan.”
The bloc is composed of 25 legislators from the Visayas and four from other provinces.
The non-Visayan members of the bloc are Cesar Sarmiento of Catanduanes, Sonny Collantes of Batangas and Pedro Acharon of South Cotabato.
The bloc was formed during a luncheon meeting in Quezon City on Wednesday.
Treñas said the forming of the Visayan Bloc would fill the need for a strong voice to clamor for a fair share for the Visayas of government resources and programs.
He said the priority of the bloc is to push reforms and programs on tourism. “This is a very important area of concern,” said Treñas.
Benitez said the bloc would push for the establishment of a nautical highway connecting different islands in the Visayas.
Aside from Benitez and Treñas, members of the bloc from Western Visayas are Oscar Richard Garin of Iloilo, Arcadio Gorriceta and Arthur Defensor Jr. of Iloilo; Evelio Leonardia of Bacolod City; Leo Rafael Cueva, Alejandro Mirasol and Mercedes Alvarez of Negros Occidental; Joaquin Nava of Guimaras; Teodorico Haresco of Aklan; Antonio del Rosario of Capiz and Paolo Javier of Antique.
Members from Central Visayas are George Arnaiz and Pryde Henry Teves of Negros Oriental; Anne Marie Pernes of Siquijor; Rene Relampagos of Bohol and Cebu’s Wilfredo Caminero, Benhur Salimbangon, Ace Durano and Gabriel Quisumbing.
Two members from Eastern Visayas are Ben Evardone of Eastern Samar and Damian Mercado of Southern Leyte.
Two other members are party-list representatives—Sharon Garin of Aambis-Owa, sister of Rep. Garin of Iloilo; and Pablo Nava of Append, a distant relative of the Navas in Guimaras and former councilor of Dumangas town, Iloilo.