Vice President Jejomar Binay on Wednesday asked the Senate committee on finance to remove the P200-million pork barrel from his office’s proposed P417-million budget for 2014 and promptly got what he wished for.
Congressmen hailed Binay’s decision and called on President Aquino to likewise give up his own pork barrel funds amounting to P217.6 billion.
“I know that my decision will affect many projects such as scholarships for students, medical assistance and medicine for our needy countrymen and the construction of buildings for senior citizens but I know that our countrymen will understand,” Binay said in a statement read by his chief of staff, Undersecretary Benjamin Martinez.
“I am hopeful that with this decision, I can send a message to our people that we in government are always listening to them and that we’re committed to serve faithfully, truthfully and with conviction,” Binay said.
The Senate budget committee, headed by Sen. Francis Escudero, acting on Binay’s statement, promptly cut in half his pork barrel share in next year’s proposed General Appropriations Act.
The House committee on appropriations on Monday characterized Binay’s P200-million entitlement for “locally funded” projects similar to the congressional Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) that President Aquino last month said he would abolish in the wake of the P10-billion pork barrel scandal.
Martinez, in presenting the budget of the Office of the Vice President to the House panel on Monday, said Binay was willing to have his pork allocation removed.
On Wednesday in the Senate, Martinez reiterated Binay’s decision.
The P200-million fund was first allocated to Binay in 2011 as funds from then Senator Aquino before Aquino’s election as President in 2010.
Escudero said he preferred that the P200 million Binay wanted cut from his budget be altogether scrapped from the P2.26-trillion national expenditure program for 2014.
“Given that it is in fact going to be a huge reduction on the part of the Office of the Vice President’s budget for 2014, the same together with the proposed amendment are approved and recommended favorably to the plenary for its consideration and duly submitted,” Escudero said.
ACT Teachers Rep. Antonio Tinio, one of the lawmakers who earlier questioned the PDAF-like fund under Binay’s budget, commended the Vice President for his “statesmanlike act” and urged President Aquino to do the same.
“All of the officials who have pork barrel funds are ready to let go of these. The President is the only one who is clinging to it,” he said in a press briefing.
The lump sum amounts, or special purpose funds, under the Office of the President are calamity funds (P7.5 billion); contingent funds (P1 billion); Department of Education school building fund (P1 billion); E-government fund (P2.478 billion); international commitment fund (P4.8 billion); miscellaneous and personnel benefits (P80 billion); pensions and gratuity fund (P120.4 billion); and feasibility studies fund (P400 million).
But Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa earlier said only calamity funds and contingent funds were those where the President had direct supervision. The rest are implemented under different government agencies, he said.
Bayan Muna Rep. Neri Colmenares seconded Tinio’s call.
“It’s time the official with the highest pork give this up … It’s bad for the health. It could cause high blood pressure,” Colmenares said.
No longer pork
Earlier, lawmakers suggested the abolition of Binay’s P200-million fund in his 2014 budget, noting that it was similar to pork barrel, which has been the target of calls to scrap it permanently.
They noted that the spending of Binay’s fund had to adhere to the same menu followed for the lawmakers’ PDAF. Binay’s P200-million pork had been spent for multipurpose halls, scholarship and calamity assistance, and the like.
Binay’s chief of staff had said that the fund became a part of the regular budget of Binay’s office in 2012 and 2013 and was no longer pork.