Local officials in Eastern Visayas received with mixed reactions President Benigno Aquino III’s decision to abolish the corruption-ridden Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF), or pork barrel.
Biliran Rep. Rogelio Espina said he respected the President’s decision, but stressed that the abolition of the pork barrel would impact on the delivery of various services to the constituents of the members of the House.
Espina, a former governor of Biliran, said he got funds for various projects and assistance programs for the poor, such as burial, scholarships, medical and livelihood, from the PDAF.
“Our poor barangays, municipalities and provinces cannot provide a quality of life (services for their residents) on their internal revenue allotment (alone),” Espina said in a text message.
“As representatives, we don’t only legislate laws, but we are also servants of our constituents who are seeking immediate assistance in education, health and even embalming,” he said.
But he said he supported the President’s decision for the sake of unity.
“I hope he can find a way to equitably provide immediately for the needs of … more families in the countryside,” Espina said.
Leyte Gov. Leopoldo Dominico Petilla said the pork barrel was a big help to the local governments.
He cited the flood-control project in Palo town, which is funded from the President’s pork.
The project, he said, cannot be finished by the municipal government or the provincial government because it costs more than P300 million.
But for Northern Samar Gov. Jose Ong, the abolition of the pork barrel will not affect local governments at all.
“I think the impact on local governments would be only minimal. Instead of asking our congressmen for financial assistance, we can go directly to the President. So it’s just a change of person to ask for help,” Ong said.
Ong is a younger brother of Rep. Emil Ong, who was listed by the Commission on Audit as having received more than P161.5 million in pork from 2007 to 2009.
The Catholic Church found President Aquino’s decision to abolish the PDAF a “very good move.
But the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) said on Saturday that the administration should also explain how it used the pork barrel.
Msgr. Joselito Asis, CBCP secretary general, said the public should scrutinize the Aquino administration’s pork expenditure, and determine if funds went to nongovernment organizations (NGOs) linked to businesswoman Janet Lim-Napoles, the alleged mastermind behind the P10-billion pork barrel scam.
“If [the funds] were invested in (bogus NGOs), that means [the funds] were not really used (for the public good),” Asis said in an interview.
“Those who received now and before should be made accountable. That’s a good clamor from the people—be accountable,” Asis said.
He said Mr. Aquino’s decision was a good move, as it showed the President listened to the national demand to abolish the pork barrel.
“Pork barrel is not only shocking and scandalous, [but also] shameful and sinful,” Balanga Bishop Ruperto Santos said. “[It is] plain stealing, where the poor and the needy are further exploited and made to suffer again and again.”
The PDAF does not help the poor, Santos said. “Instead, it feeds the greed and the avarice of unscrupulous people.”
Santos said the Diocese of Balanga, which covers the province of Bataan, supported the Million People March at the Luneta Park in Manila set for tomorrow.
The Philippine Council of Evangelical Churches is also glad about Mr. Aquino’s decision to abolish the pork barrel.
“We rejoice over this announcement from the President. However, we still do not know the mechanics on how the fund will actually be disbursed,” said Bishop Efraim Tendero, the group’s national director.
“The journey to liberate the funds of the people for the welfare of the people is just beginning,” Tendero said. With a report from Philip C. Tubeza