Lawmakers suddenly turn gun-shy on pork

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Budget Secretary Florencio Abad: Legislators holding off. INQUIRER FILE PHOTO

MANILA, Philippines—Perhaps fearful of a public backlash, no senator or representative in the 16th Congress has so far requested the allocation of his pork barrel fund for any project, Budget Secretary Florencio Abad said on Tuesday.

Abad said the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) had not received any endorsement of Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) requests from either the Senate or the House of Representatives since Congress convened on July 22.

That was why, Abad said the DBM had stopped the processing of PDAF, for now.

“Normally, requests are made about this time. Probably because of the raging controversy and possible changes in policy, the legislators have held off submitting their requests,” he said in a text message to the Inquirer.

Five senators and 23 representatives have been implicated in the alleged conversion of P10-billion PDAF into kickbacks over 10 years by businesswoman Janet Lim-Napoles, using dummy foundations, fake beneficiaries and forged signatures of officials.

The Inquirer ran a series on this, and this was corroborated by the findings of the Commission on Audit (COA) in a special audit of the PDAF from 2007 to 2009.

COA report

The COA reported on Friday that at least 74 legislators exceeded their annual allocations of P70 million for representatives and P200 million for senators between 2007 and 2009. COA chair Grace Pulido-Tan said the findings were appalling.

Of the P12.018 billion taxpayer money allocated to the pork barrel of legislators, only about 10 to 20 percent were spent on the actual projects.

The COA report identified 371 legislators who accounted for P8.374 billion worth of pork barrel in soft projects, and P32.347 billion in hard projects.

What had been processed so far were requests for PDAF allocation carried over from the previous Congress, Abad said.

“That still covered the last Congress, not this new one,” he said, referring to the first tranche of PDAF allocations released this year. “But there are still carryover PDAF not yet requested from that congressional batch.”

On Monday night, President Aquino told GMA 7 that the release of PDAF in the second half had been suspended pending proper liquidation of the earlier tranche and completion of the inquiry into the pork barrel scam by the National Bureau of Investigation.

PDAF to be retained

The President said charges would be filed against anybody found to have committed improper liquidation.

Earlier Monday, Aquino rejected the clamor for the abolition of the PDAF and argued it had benefited rural communities’ needs otherwise not noticed by the national government. Besides, any misuse could be plugged by more stringent safeguards, he added.

Part of the safeguards drawn up by DBM was to limit the menu of projects that could be funded by the lawmakers’ PDAF, but some argued that this was still open to corruption.

“We are determined to pursue good governance on all fronts, including PDAF administration,” said Secretary Herminio Coloma of the Presidential Communication Operations Office. “The government will file solid cases and exact accountability from those who have misused public funds.’’

Meanwhile, deputy presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte said the Senate was free to inquire into the pork barrel scam even though this was being investigated by the NBI.

“The probe is perfectly within the jurisdiction of the Senate, in aid of legislation. Anyway, the NBI has already started its own investigation,” she said.

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