Colmenares presses for House probe into pork barrel scam

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Bayan Muna Rep. Neri Colmenares INQUIRER.net FILE PHOTO

MANILA, Philippines – Bayan Muna Representative Neri Colmenares said Saturday it was time to “deliver the fatal blow” to the Priority Development Assistance Fund  in light of the Commission on Audit’s report pointing to a massive misuse of the congressional allocation from 2007 to 2009 alone.

“This is the most opportune time to deliver the final blow on the pork barrel, considering that the Palace, the Senate and the House are not so enthusiastic to scrap it,” he told the Philippine Daily Inquirer.

Speaker Feliciano Belmonte rejected proposals for a congressional inquiry at this time, saying he preferred that the COA conduct a joint investigation with the Department of Justice and the Office of the Ombudsman.

Last year, Belmonte said he and then Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile had been informed by COA chairperson Grace Pulido-Tan about her agency’s wide-ranging investigation into PDAF allocations.

Belmonte said he told Tan to “go ahead” and just recently, sought an update on the investigation.

“I welcome it,” Belmonte said in a text message, “(But) I certainly don’t want to muddle it with a House probe at the same time. I propose a joint follow-up probe by COA, DOJ and the Ombudsman, instead of congressmen investigating themselves. I hope you see my point.”

But Colmenares was bent on pursuing a House investigation, insisting that the chamber had no choice but to act on the minority bloc’s resolution calling for an inquiry into the pork barrel scandal.

“Whatever the opinion of the leadership of the House is, there was a resolution filed and under the rules, it must be heard,” he said.

The COA special audit showed that the Department of Budget and Management released a total of P12 billion in PDAF allocations from 2007 to 2009.

Of the amount, P6.156 billion in pork barrel funds of 12 senators and 180 House members went to 82 non-governmental organizations. Ten of these NGOs were linked to Janet Lim-Napoles, the central figure in the P10-billion pork barrel scam, cornering P2.157 billion.

Belmonte expressed doubt that former Compostela Valley Representative Manuel “Way Kurat” Zamora received P3 billion in pork barrel allocations between 2007 and 2009, per the COA findings.

“I doubt the P3 billion to Zamora. He’s just a bit player,” Belmonte said.

In light of the COA findings, Belmonte said that no PDAF should be “turned over to an NGO in any form,” and that the allocation should be used for a congressman’s own district. He said the amount should not also be given to any local government unit.

Colmenares said any investigation should not zero in only on Napoles, who remains in hiding following the issuance of a warrant for her arrest on a separate criminal charge.

“Napoles could not have pulled it off by herself,” Colmenares said. “Prosecuting Napoles alone would be the greatest tragedy.”

Former Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman, chairman of the powerful House committee on appropriations from 2007 to 2008, maintained that the P70-million annual pork barrel for each representative was an “absolute ceiling.”

“No member of Congress can exceed his annual PDAF maximum allocation because the PDAF is not elastic,” he said in a statement.

“It is a gross misimpression that all fund releases recommended or initiated by the members of Congress are subsumed under PDAF.”

Lagman said the old “congressional initiative allocation” allowed “some” senators and representatives to “get additional funding, with the conformity of the DBM.”

He said “a few” others got more share “through a leadership allocation for ranking officers of the House and the Senate and chairmen of major committees  to whom numerous requests for funding are directed because of their congressional position.”

“These additional allocations, which are legitimately appropriated and transparently released, are not part of the PDAF,” he said.

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