Palace won’t stop lawmakers from asking SC to lift TRO on pork barrel releases

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MANILA, Philippines — Malacañang said Sunday it would not stop congressmen from asking the Supreme Court to lift the temporary restraining order (TRO) on the allocation of their pork barrel for poor students and indigent patients.

Should the lawmakers go ahead with the filing of the motion Monday, it’s the call of the high court whether to grant it, deputy presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte said in a radio interview.

“It’s not defiance. That’s different from disobeying a TRO. In effect they’re bringing the side of the Lower House to attention of the high court,’’ she said over government-run dzRB. “It’s up to the Supreme Court how to act on the move.’’

Eastern Samar Rep. Ben Evardone, vice chair of the appropriation committee, said the motion would specifically ask the high tribunal to free up pork barrel funds for scholarships and medical assistance programs.

He said the Office of the Ombudsman had been furnished copies of affidavits of scholars and indigent patients who continued to depend on pork barrel, or the priority development assistance fund (PDAF). With the TRO, allocation for such programs was temporarily stopped.

The high tribunal issued the TRO on Sept. 10 pending the resolution of a petition questioning the constitutionality of PDAF.

It stopped the Department of Budget and Management, national treasurer and executive secretary from releasing the remaining PDAF allocated to members of Congress under the General Appropriations Act of 2013.

Budget Secretary Florencio Abad said some P12.27 billion in PDAF for the second semester in 2013 has not been released.

After President Aquino announced the abolition of the PDAF in the national budget, a growing number of lawmakers had expressed concern over the possible discontinuity of assistance for students and patients in their congressional districts.

The abolition came in the face of public outrage over the P10-billion pork barrel scam, fanned by news and state auditors’ reports over the large-scale misuse of the PDAF over 10 years especially during the Arroyo administration.

The National Bureau of Investigation has filed a complaint for plunder against Senators Juan Ponce Enrile, Ramon Revilla Jr. and Jinggoy Estrada, and several House lawmakers in connection with the scam with the Office of the Ombudsman.

Meanwhile, Valte said the executive department would also look into reports that the PDAF of certain senators had been channeled through the Philippine Forest Corp. to questionable non-government organizations from 2010 to 2012.

“We will take a look at what Secretary (Ramon) Paje has found because I understand that from the onset of the administration, Secretary Paje had asked that the DENR be taken out of the menu of implementing of agencies that could be identified as possible implementers of programs sourced from PDAF. If they found something, let’s see what it is that they found,’’ she said.

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