The executive branch and members of Congress still need the pork barrel to alleviate poverty in legislative districts, Malacañang said Tuesday in response to Lingayen-Dagupan Archbishop Socrates Villegas’ call for lawmakers to give up their pork.
“What the archbishop was mentioning in theory, we want to make a reality. This is why the DBM (Department of Budget and Management) is working with both houses of Congress to ensure that the PDAF (Priority Development Assistance Fund) is properly utilized, and that it reaches the constituents of the legislators,” deputy presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte said at a briefing in the Palace.
In his pastoral statement, Villegas, the incoming head of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines, called for the abolition of the pork barrel (formally called PDAF) and for members of Congress to concentrate on making laws.
He said the pork barrel had turned public governance into a system of patronage.
Valte quoted a portion of the statement to drive home the point that the pork barrel system was supposed to help the poorer sectors of society.
“In theory, the Priority Development Assistance Fund is an attempt to make government projects available to the poor and the marginalized sectors of society who are not sufficiently attended to when the national priorities are defined. In theory, it is propoor and promarginalized. Its goal is to alleviate poverty and to bring about a redistribution of public money for the benefit of the poor,” said Valte, quoting from the pastoral statement.
Congress’ consent required
Secretary Herminio Coloma, head of the Presidential Communications Operations Office, said the proposal to scrap the PDAF should be the concern of Congress.
“Such move requires congressional consent. Our people’s sentiments and stand should be ascertained and clearly communicated to our representatives and senators,” said Coloma in a text message.
Asked whether the President would lose his hold on Congress should the PDAF be scrapped and removed from the annual budget proposal of the executive, Coloma said:
“The President’s influence on Congress has never been based on patronage politics but on the tenets of good governance. He is influential because he enjoys the trust and confidence of the people.”
Barking up wrong tree
Sectors calling for the abolition of the pork barrel system are barking up the wrong tree, said the chair of the Senate committee that reviews the national budget.
Sen. Francis Escudero, the chair of the Senate committee on finance, said the provision in the national budget for PDAF “was a great equalizer.”
He said reforms were underway in the implementation of pork-funded projects on the heels of the Inquirer series on P10 billion worth of PDAF projects making their way to questionable entities over the past decade.
“President Aquino and the [Department of Budget and Management] are already issuing an executive order for the accreditation of [nongovernment organizations] so that fly-by-night groups may be avoided [in the disbursement of PDAF],” Escudero said.
The menu of projects that can be funded by the PDAF used to be internal to the DBM and lawmakers but is now indicated in the national budget, the senator said.
He added that there would be a review of how the PDAF would be disbursed.
To reach remote areas
Escudero said that through the PDAF, government projects were certain to reach far-flung areas regardless of whether their representatives in the House of Representatives belong to the opposition or were not aggressive in pushing for development initiatives in their districts.
“On top of the allocations in the national government, each congressional district is assured of P70 million in funds for projects,” Escudero told reporters. Each senator is allocated every year P200 million in PDAF for their pet projects.
Escudero’s committee is in charge of scrutinizing the Aquino administration’s national expenditure program, including its provision for the PDAF.
He indicated that the proposed general appropriations bill would be an instrument in cleaning up the implementation of the pork barrel system.
“If they are saying that we should remove all provisions that are tarnished with corruption, then many provisions of the budget should also be removed because many provisions have also been involved in corruption,” Escudero said.
Opposition Sen. JV Ejercito, chair of the Senate committee on economic affairs, said the government must distinguish between legitimate NGOs and dubious groups that try to take undue advantage of the pork barrel.
“There are legitimate NGOs that really work for the poor, children and environment. They are effective partners of government in poverty reduction, delivery of social services, etc.” Ejercito said in a text message.
“It may not be reasonable to deprive them of such assistance [from the PDAF],” Ejercito added.
Individuals behind fake NGOs, Ejercito said, should “be charged and put in jail.”
Retired Archbishop Oscar Cruz said Aquino should lead by example and let go of his own “pork barrel” funds if he was serious about matuwid na daan (straight path) advocacy, the Catholic prelate said on Tuesday.
Cruz said he supported Villegas’ call for lawmakers to give up their PDAF.
“I hope the President should also not accept his pork barrel and just return it,” Cruz said at a Church forum in Intramuros, Manila.
Cruz said the President might be hesitant to let go of the pork barrel funds because he would need these to keep lawmakers in line.
“These funds are used like hammers. If you do not toe the line, you will not get any. That’s what’s disheartening,” he said.
“This matuwid na daan is no longer amusing,” he added.