House moves to cut pork out of 2014 budget

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A move to abolish the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) in the proposed 2014 national budget is gaining bipartisan support in the House of Representatives, Speaker Feliciano Belmonte said on Wednesday.

Belmonte told reporters that a statement cobbled during a caucus on Monday of the House majority led by the ruling Liberal Party could very well turn into a resolution that would ask the appropriations committee to delete the P25-billion lump sum item for the PDAF in the proposed General Appropriations Act next year.

But despite the removal of this lump sum, lawmakers would still have the chance to refer beneficiaries for government assistance.

The lump sum amount for the PDAF, also known as the pork barrel, if deleted could then be distributed to executive agencies, Belmonte said. Lawmakers could then refer to these agencies beneficiaries for such projects such as medical and educational assistance.

Lawmakers reserve the right to make recommendations to agencies, he added.

The statement reads:

“We, the members of the House of the 16th Congress support President Aquino’s efforts to promote transparency and accountability as we join the call for the abolition of the PDAF. In view of this, we ask the committee on appropriations to remove the P25-billion provision on PDAF in the 2014 budget.

“As representatives of respective constituencies with a mandate to voice out the needs of the people, legitimate needs for social services have to be addressed by social agencies.”

Belmonte said the statement had been signed by Majority Leader Neptali Gonzales; Deputy Speakers Carlos Padilla, Sergio Apostol, Pangalian Balindong, Roberto Puno, Giorggidi Aggabao and Dina Abad; party leaders Elpidio Barzaga (National Unity Party), Mel Senen Sarmiento (Liberal Party), Eleandro Jesus Madrona (Nacionalista Party), Enrique Cojuangco and Mark Mendoza (Nationalist People’s Coalition) and Abigail Binay (United Nationalist Alliance) and party-list leaders Nicanor Briones and Raymond Mendoza.

The party leaders have been talking to their members to get their support for the statement, Belmonte said.

House Minority Leader Ronaldo Zamora said where the PDAF would go must be made clear, because the funds could just be placed under different agencies as part of a “shell game.”

 

Caucus on PDAF fate

“We want to know where the money will be going. It’s not enough to call for abolition. If we’re going to abolish it, do we see a net reduction by P25.4 billion of the budget? Otherwise, this is going to be just another shell game where we remove the shell from one agent to the next and declare victory,” he said in a press briefing.

Zamora also said the House should hold an all-member caucus to discuss the details on the fate of the PDAF.

“We have a stake in this, too. We have district and party-list representatives, too,” he added. The minority wants the abolition not just of the PDAF but of all lump sum budgeting, he said.

Calls to scrap all pork barrel funds have mounted following allegations that lawmakers’ pork barrel funds were funneled to bogus nongovernment organizations for ghost projects. A Commission on Audit report also revealed the questionable use of billions of pesos in PDAF.

Zamora said that with Belmonte’s signature on the statement, he expected that the rest of the majority would immediately follow. “His leadership is on the line,” Zamora said.

 

Political suicide

He acknowledged that calling for the abolition of the PDAF could have dire consequences. “Those who sign the resolution may regret it come election time,” he said.

Gabriela Rep. Luz Ilagan said signing the statement would be like committing “political hara-kiri.”

Zamora said that people were waiting to see the prosecution of those who misused their pork barrel.

“We want to see first the punishment of the guilty individual and the declaration that some are innocent. Then we want to take a look at the process to find out how this process allowed so many individuals to benefit, the deficiencies, and then talk about how to go about changing that process,” he said.

1BAP Rep. Silvestre Bello, who is also with the minority, believes the people are angrier at those who pocketed the pork barrel funds than at the pork barrel itself.

“If all those who were mentioned in the report would go on leave, then people might believe we are serious about this,” he added.

Aquino letter will do

Buhay Rep. Lito Atienza said President Aquino could easily just send a letter to the Senate and House leadership deleting the PDAF item, noting that the Chief Executive had already called for the scrapping of PDAF.

“The reason is valid because of the public condemnation of the malpractice (in the use of PDAF),” he said.

Mr. Aquino, however, in calling for the abolition of PDAF in next year’s budget was proposing a new mechanism to replace the pork barrel, such as “line item” instead of lump sum budgeting.

Atienza said there would be no more need for such a statement or resolution if the Department of Budget and Management would itself remove the P25-billion PDAF allocation in the proposed national budget.

“There would be no more room for backroom caucuses, deliberations, horse-trading,” he said.

Remove discretionary power

“We need to abolish the pork barrel, the pork barrel system as a whole, and the time to do it is now, not next year,” he added, saying he got information that some of his colleagues wanted to delay the PDAF abolition until the 2015 budget deliberations.

Camarines Sur Rep. Maria Leonor Robredo has filed a resolution seeking to remove the “discretionary power” of congressmen over the disbursement of PDAF allocations.

Under House Resolution No. 236, representatives would consult with stakeholders in identifying “priority projects” for which the pork barrel would be spent.

Congressmen “shall ensure that the allocation of the funds reflect the priorities identified during the consultation,” according to the resolution, which was supported by four other legislators.

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