MANILA, Philippines—Amid calls to junk the pork barrel system, a veteran tax collector urged the Civil Service Commission to require members of Congress to include their yearly allocation in their Statements of Assets, Liabilities and Net Worth (SALN).
In a letter to CSC Commissioner Francisco Duque III, lawyer Estrella Martinez said it would be “more honorable” to include individual Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) allotments in the documents, arguing that the SALN has become the “sword of Damocles hovering over the heads of elected government officials.”
Martinez, a former Bureau of Internal Revenue regional director, said the declaration would allow “anyone to scrutinize a senator or congressman’s PDAF anytime.”
“That way, we won’t have to wait for the Commission on Audit report to see if they are spending our money properly,” she told the Philippine Daily Inquirer.
But Martinez, a tax collector for 32 years, said the PDAF should be included in the SALN only as a “parenthetical disclosure therein for purposes of strict compliance.”
In the two-page letter dated on Thursday, she said the PDAF “partakes of the nature of an implied trust.” It belongs in the “same category of properties which were acquired through gratuitous title (donation and inheritance) and, hence, not part of a taxable net worth,” she argued.
Under the present set-up, each senator is entitled to P200 million worth of annual PDAF. The counterpart amount is P70 million for each House representative during the same period.
Should her proposal be accepted, Martinez said legislators could declare the yearend balance of whatever amount of PDAF they received in a given taxable year.
Toward the end of the impeachment trial of then Chief Justice Renato Corona last year, Martinez came out in public and argued that Corona should not testify on his reported dollar deposits.
Martinez maintained that Corona would end up violating the Foreign Currency Deposits Act and could be cited in contempt because of a Supreme Court order preventing the impeachment court from looking into the dollar deposits.
Corona went ahead with his testimony, admitted the existence of his dollar deposits, and ended up being convicted by the impeachment court for failing to include them in his SALNs.
More than a year later, the former chief House prosecutor, Rep. Niel Tupas, was himself tagged by COA in the alleged misuse of his PDAF between 2007 and 2009.
Per the COA Special Audit, Tupas was among the legislators whose combined pork barrel of P541.7 million was covered by “questionable” documents submitted by suppliers.