The pork barrel—public money for the pet projects of legislators—has become even more portly under the Aquino administration, the budget secretary of former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo said on Wednesday.
Camarines Sur Rep. Rolando Andaya said the P70 million and P200 million in yearly pork barrel allocations for representatives and senators, respectively, were “institutionalized” in the national budget when President Aquino took over Malacañang.
Andaya said such quotas were just guides during the time of the Arroyo administration.
“President Arroyo could choose who and how much to give to each congressman or senator which explains why some have more than others in the COA (Commission on Audit) report. But under this administration, everybody gets the P70 million or P200 million every year,” Andaya said in a phone interview.
The pork barrel is officially called the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF), formerly the Countrywide Development Fund.
Norm since 15th Congress
Budget Secretary Florencio Abad said the P70 million in PDAF for a member of the House of Representatives and P200 million for a senator was adopted as the norm beginning in the 15th Congress.
“We just wanted to put an end to the inggitan (envy) among lawmakers. At least everyone gets their share no more, no less. Dati may tampuhan pa kasi ’yung mas malakas, mas malaki (Before there was displeasure because those who were close [to Malacañang] got bigger amounts.),” said Abad.
For the lawmakers whose allocations were withheld in the 15th Congress, such as those for the two sons of Arroyo, their share of the PDAF was sent directly to their districts.
Up by almost a third
While the national budget increased 29 percent from P1.4 trillion in 2009 to P1.8 trillion in 2012, the PDAF swelled 267 percent to P24.24 billion in 2012—the year Congress ousted former Chief Justice Renato Corona, and passed sin-tax reform and reproductive health bills.
During this period, the pork barrel of senators surged 67 percent to P4.14 billion in 2012 from P2.48 billion.
The amount was peanuts compared with the share of the House of Representatives that saw its pork barrel allocation growing nearly five times to P20.10 billion in 2012 from P4.12 billion in 2009.
Party-list representatives alone were allocated P3.66 billion in 2012, or 829 percent more than the P393.85 million that was set aside for them as a group in 2009.
Arroyo spending more
The COA special audit, however, would show that Arroyo was already spending more than the 2012 pork-spending level in the last few years of her administration during which she faced impeachment cases and congressional probes of projects tainted with corruption.
The COA said the “soft” and “hard” projects funded by pork funds totaled P79.88 billion, or an average of P26.63 billion a year in 2007-2009.
The amount did not include the P69.62 billion that the COA said was released for the hard projects of the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) during the period but lacked the records to show the legislators who sponsored them.
Soft projects include the procurement of seeds and support for the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD), while hard projects refer to road, bridges, schools and other infrastructure.
Aquino system ‘better’
Abad said the system adopted by the Aquino administration was better than Arroyo’s because it made the pork barrel releases more transparent because it discouraged “congressional insertions” (in which representatives lobbied agencies for more projects in their districts during budget hearings).
The timely approval of the budget under the Aquino administration ensured more fiscal discipline than during the previous administration, Abad said.
DSWD as gatekeeper
Andaya acknowledged that the failure to enact the budget on time during the Arroyo years had given Malacañang the final say on how to use the savings or unused allocations in the new fiscal year.
For 2014, the Aquino administration has earmarked P27 billion in pork barrel in the P2.27-trillion national budget, with the DSWD designated as the gatekeeper of releases to all nongovernment organizations (NGOs).
The COA special audit showed that the DSWD itself was lax in accrediting and monitoring PDAF releases as it allowed fake NGOs to handle P2.47 billion in soft pork from 2007 to 2009.
The fake NGO racket has flourished beyond the Arroyo administration. Whistle-blowers Benhur Luy and Merlina Suñas claimed that dummy NGOs controlled by Janet Lim-Napoles had transactions with the same implementing agencies cited in the COA report as late as last year.