Pork-deprived lawmakers zero in on Binay funds

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Vice President Jejomar Binay has not been spared the heightened scrutiny of pork barrel funds in Congress amid the public uproar over the misuse of public funds for the pet projects of lawmakers.

At the budget hearing on Monday, lawmakers from the minority and majority blocs targeted the P200 million in supposed pork barrel in the P417-million budget for 2014 of the Office of the Vice President (OVP).

They said the amount could be taken out, too, in line with President Aquino’s desire to abolish all such funds.

The P200 million was given to the OVP starting 2011 and was drawn from the unused Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) of then Sen. Benigno Aquino III. Aquino served only the first half of his six-year term (2007-2013) as senator because he became the President in 2010.

But in 2012 and 2013, that amount was already integrated into the OVP’s locally funded budget, according to Undersecretary Benjamin Martinez, Binay’s chief of staff. The Vice President was not present at the budget hearing.

The P200 million has been used to construct multipurpose halls and provide scholarships and calamity assistance.

Based on documents from the Department of Budget and Management, the OVP position was that the amount was no longer PDAF but “is now a regular budget as locally funded budget” of Binay’s office, according to Martinez.

But upon questioning by lawmakers, he said that the OVP was supporting the President’s desire to abolish pork barrel funds and that it would accept Congress’ decision on what to do with the P200 million in its budget.

Same as pork

During the hearing, ACT Teachers Rep. Antonio Tinio pointed out that the use of the P200-million allocation had to adhere to the PDAF menu that lawmakers followed.

Caloocan Rep. Edgar Erice noted that the P200 million was similar to lawmakers’ pork barrel, officially called the PDAF, considering that the OVP had the discretion to choose the projects it would fund.

The amount serves the same purpose as lawmakers’ pork barrel, which is now on the verge of being scrapped, Erice said.

He said this could then be taken out of the OVP budget in light of Binay’s earlier statement, confirmed by Martinez, that any pork barrel in his office could be removed.

“I’d like to state for the record the OVP has confirmed that if we found PDAF in his budget, we can take it out,” said the Caloocan lawmaker.

The House appropriations committee chair, Rep. Isidro Ungab, asked Martinez whether the OVP favored the scrapping of the amount, after noting that the fund was similar to the PDAF.

Ungab said the appropriations committee was set to discuss on Tuesday the House position to scrap the pork barrel from the 2014 budget, and he wanted to know whether the OVP shared the position of the House of Representatives.

Binay to accept cut

Martinez replied that the OVP would accept whatever ruling the President and Congress would make.

“We will support whatever is the decision of the President and Congress. That will not be a problem with us,” said Binay’s chief of staff.

Martinez said the removal of the amount from the OVP budget would not stop it from asking for assistance through the national government.

Navotas Rep. Toby Tiangco, an ally of Binay in the United Nationalist Alliance, said he would have no problem with Congress deciding to remove the P200-million fund from the OVP budget.

Regardless of the motive for the move, Tiangco said Binay would respect Congress’ decision.

“The Vice President has clearly, clearly, clearly stated he supports the position of the President on PDAF. And we all know the power of the purse lies with Congress,” Tiangco told reporters.

Lump sum funds

In a separate interview, Ungab said not all of the lump sum or special purpose funds would be removed from the 2014 budget.

He said the Office of the President had to have calamity and contingency funds so that it could provide help to citizens during natural disasters and emergencies, such as evacuating Filipinos from strife-torn countries.

The House appropriations committee is scheduled to meet Tuesday to discuss the 2014 budget bill, including the proposed scrapping of the P25 billion in PDAF from the budget.

Ungab said it was likely that the amount would be channeled to various agencies that provide social services, so as not to disrupt the provision of essential assistance to citizens.

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