Abad says Malacañang can’t go vs Congress power of the purse

...Lawmakers may identify projects but these will go through budget process

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The Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) will remain in the budget proposal for 2014 and will be totally scrapped only the following year, Malacañang said on Sunday.

However, it said lawmakers could still identify their pet projects in whatever form or shape the PDAF, or pork barrel, takes.

When the executive department starts preparing the 2015 budget as early as December this year, there won’t be an item for the PDAF, according to Budget Secretary Florencio Abad.

“In 2015, there’s no more PDAF. There’s no need to put a block of money there,” he said in an interview by phone. “There won’t be any other name for it because it won’t be there.”

While the President announced the abolition of the PDAF on Friday, the executive department retained the P25.2-billion allocation for the PDAF in the proposed P2.268-trillion national budget for 2014 because this had been programmed for social services and infrastructure.

Malacañang, however, indicated that the lawmakers’ discretion in “nominating” projects to line agencies crafting the national expenditure program would not be clipped. After all, Congress has the “power over the purse,” Abad said.

He advised strident proponents of the complete removal of such discretion to talk this out with the lawmakers themselves. Congress is a coequal branch of government, he said.

“They want to exclude the congressmen. How can you do that when Congress is there to perform that function?” he said.

Power of the purse

 

Such power includes “determining what projects to fund, whether there’s pork barrel or not,” he said. “The power over the purse is a constitutional obligation. It’s not as if they can forgo it.”

Abad observed that the “distrust” caused by the P10-billion pork barrel scam had “clouded” this power.

The President’s announcement on the PDAF abolition had been met with skepticism by many who observed that he missed the point when he continued to grant lawmakers’ discretion to identify projects.

In a turnaround from an earlier stand, Aquino declared on Friday that it was time to abolish the PDAF, admitting that its “scandalous” misuse persisted despite the reforms he instituted.

The President asked Senate President Franklin Drilon and Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr. to devise a mechanism to address the needs of constituents in a “transparent, methodical and rational” manner.

From now on, Aquino said the lawmakers could identify and suggest projects in their districts but this had to go through the budgetary process. If approved, the projects would be earmarked as “line items” in the national budget.

2 options

Abad said the challenge facing senators and representatives was to figure out how to allocate the P25.2-billion allocation for the PDAF after some lawmakers indicated they would forgo it.

If all 24 senators would abandon their pork, that would be P4.8 billion less. Apart from them, representatives had indicated the same intention, Abad said.

“We really don’t know where it will lead. We need to talk to the legislators and figure out how to configure this. This is going to be a much reduced budget. Are they going to pursue this? What if civil society wants to participate in identifying projects?” he said.

“I think it’s an opportunity for us in the DBM (Department of Budget and Management) to get people to understand the budget process and once they are able to do this, find ways by which they can participate in the process,” he said.

Abad admitted that there were two options on the PDAF: Keep it intact and use it for line budgeting, or completely do away with the P25.2 billion.

The first is unacceptable while the second is not practical since reelected legislators are still supporting students. The middle ground is a reduced P25.2 billion, Abad said. “So where are we going to put the balance? That’s the question that will face Congress.”

‘Reasonable discourse’

In an exclusive interview with the Inquirer last week, Aquino explained how his government was handling the alleged pork barrel scam.

“The first step is to find out exactly what transpired, who were involved, what loopholes were exploited, what are the actional instances for us,” he said. “Then, where to bring charges, against whom. The prioritization. Do we scrap it or introduce reforms? How about those who manage to put it to good use, will they still have the ability [to access such funds], as opposed to those with bad intentions and shouldn’t be able to [access].”

Asked if he felt public outrage against the elected officials’ misuse of the people’s money, he said, “yes,” adding, “but also, you’re after a reasonable discourse.”

Asked about Monday’s rally, he replied: “They are free to rally, [to decry] the abuse. I agree with that and support that. But at the end of the day, I cannot stop at sloganeering. Our function as the executive is to execute the laws… toward that, to find the quantity and quality of evidence to warrant conviction.”—With a report from Thelma S. San Juan

Originally posted: 7:14 pm | Sunday, August 25th, 2013

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