Responding to the clamor for the abolition of pork barrel, Sen. Francis “Chiz” Escudero on Sunday suggested that Congress reallocate its P25.24-billion Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) in the proposed P2.268-trillion budget for 2014 to specific items in government departments.
The proposal was one of three the Senate finance committee chair outlined in a radio interview. He said a second, and more radical, option would be to subtract the PDAF from the budget altogether, pointing out that Congress under the law “can take away but not add to Malacañang’s budget proposal.”
Escudero said a third action could be for Congress to heed the decades-old suggestion to observe line item budgeting, where all expenses using the PDAF, more popularly referred to as pork barrel, would be detailed or listed down to the last peso.
“Pork barrel is defined as a lump-sum allocation. But if we specify the items as part of reforms, what you see is what you get,” he said.
Senators and congressmen would still be allowed to identify projects where their PDAF would be used. This time, however, they would have to “defend and justify” these expenses, Escudero said.
“Members of Congress must be able to explain whether their PDAF would be used to construct roads. Would a road be made of asphalt? Or would the funds be used for a school building? A government hospital? In the case of soft projects, who would be the beneficiary and which areas would benefit?” he said.
“I have always said I favor abolition. I even filed a resolution to this effect,” he said. If the Senate approves the resolution, Escudero said the Senate version of the 2014 budget would either not carry the P25.2-billion PDAF at all or the amount would be redistributed.
“We cannot go back to the old practice of lump-sum appropriations for the PDAF,” he said. The minimum level of reform would be line item budgeting,” he said. Nongovernment organizations and government corporations would no longer be allowed to be used as conduits for pork barrel distribution, he said.
On Sunday, Sen. Cynthia Villar joined 15 senators who said they favored the PDAF scrapping. She said she supported the move “if it is the only way to ensure that the people’s money will not be wasted or stolen.”
The other senators who favor the move are Juan Edgardo Angara, Paolo Benigno Aquino IV, Senate Majority Leader Alan Peter Cayetano, Jose Victor Ejercito, Teofisto Guingona III, Gregorio Honasan, Loren Legarda, Aquilino Pimentel III, Grace Poe, Senate Pro Tempore Ralph Recto, Ramon Revilla Jr., Miriam Defensor-Santiago, Vicente Sotto III and Senate President Franklin Drilon.
Quezon Rep. Aleta Suarez, who replaced her husband Danilo, the minority leader in the last Congress, defended the PDAF. “Yes, there are some abuses. But in general, the fund is a great help to many Filipinos,” she told the Inquirer on Saturday, pointing out that this had been the source of assistance to poor Filipinos “from birth to burial.”—With a report from Delfin T. Mallari Jr., Inquirer Southern Luzon