Without ‘pork’ fund as carrot, Palace has to work harder for budget passage

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Deputy presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte. INQUIRER FILE PHOTO

MANILA, Philippines — Without a carrot to dangle, Malacañang may find it tougher to get the proposed P2.268-trillion 2014 national budget approved by Congress.

Deputy presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte admitted on Tuesday that the work has been cut out for the executive department after President Aquino scrapped the priority development assistance fund (PDAF) in the budget.

“We’re ready to do the work for what is necessary,’’ Valte said when asked if the executive department was confident the budget would be approved by both chambers of Congress without the PDAF.

Valte merely smiled in a Malacañang briefing when asked why apart from House Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr., the rest of the lawmakers seemed to be silent on the President’s abolition of their PDAF.

“If my count is right, there are 15 senators who said they’re supporting it. In the Lower House, I don’t have the figures. I’ve been seeing individual statements, but I did not keep a tally,’’ she said.

Analysts have said that the PDAF – some P200 million for each senator and P70 million for each representative – is the executive department’s “sweetener’’ for the approval of the budget.

At least 15 senators have backed the abolition of PDAF ahead of the President’s announcement, but so far, there’s no similar majority support from House lawmakers.

Belmonte, who was beside the President when he announced the abolition of PDAF last Friday, predicted the lawmakers’ resistance to the deletion of the P25.2-billion PDAF in the 2014 budget. He vowed to consult leaders of the administration coalition.

But presidential spokesperson Edwin Lacierda said Monday that lawmakers would toe the line, if only to avoid being perceived as part of the “dark side.’’

In the face of the public outrage over the large-scale misuse of the PDAF over the years, the President announced the abolition of the PDAF, and identified a menu of projects to limit lawmakers’ discretion in the process.

The total amount of PDAF in the 2014 budget, however, would be retained since this had been programmed for social services and infrastructure. The PDAF would only be totally scrapped in the 2015 budget, officials said.

In view of its abolition, Valte admitted that the executive department would do “extra work’’ in the House and Senate.

“That’s why the DBM (Department of Budget and Management) is buckling down to work with both Houses on how to implement the guidelines spelled out by the President,’’ she said.

As it is, tweaking the budget and waiting for lawmakers to identify projects that will be reflected as line items following fresh consultations with their constituents will lengthen budget deliberations, according to officials.

Figuring out how to allocate P25.2 billion would be the challenge facing Congress, but the administration knew the budget should be passed by December to avoid reenactment, Budget Secretary Florencio Abad earlier said.

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