Aquino could depend more on foes than allies in scrapping ‘pork’
MANILA, Philippines – In a strange twist, President Benigno Aquino III could depend more on opposition senators to deliver on his major policy reform: the deletion of the pork barrel from the 2014 national budget.
Minority Leader Juan Ponce Enrile and his five colleagues in the minority are showing the way for the total scrapping of their priority development assistance fund (PDAF) from the P2.268 trillion budget.
On the other hand, the majority led by Senate President Franklin Drilon who vowed to lead its abolition appears to be divided on the matter. Some have expressed preference for its realignment.
In last Wednesday’s caucus, Enrile unequivocally declared that the PDAF should be totally excised from the 2014 budget, and his five colleagues in the minority agreed with him.
“In the caucus last Wednesday, Senator Enrile manifested that all the pork barrel funds of the Senate should be removed from the 2014 budget,’’ Sen. Jose “Jinggoy” Estrada said Sunday in a radio interview.
Estrada said he and the rest of the minority senators agreed with the minority leader’s position.
Enrile, who is facing a plunder complaint before the Ombudsman together with Estrada and Ramon Revilla Jr. over the pork barrel scam, has indicated as much in his interview with the press.
“Yes, it’s total [abolition]. Nothing will be left,’’ he told reporters before the caucus.
Sen. Vicente Sotto III had early on vowed to vote for total scrapping regardless of the final decision in the chamber.
To totally insulate the senators from any perception of fund misuse, neophyte Sen. Nancy Binay said she favored total abolition. Another neophyte Sen. JV Ejercito and Gregorio Honasan III said they would heed public clamor for abolition.
Except for the neophytes, some of the senators have been implicated in the pork barrel scandal that has roiled Congress for months now.
In the face of public outrage over the large-scale misuse of pork barrel, the President in late August announced the abolition of the PDAF from the 2014 budget, requesting Drilon and Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr. to devise a mechanism to do this.
Budget officials, however, admitted that the PDAF item could be deleted, but not the appropriation for it. If at all, total abolition could only take place in the 2015 budget.
The senators have at least two choices: totally delete their PDAF of P200 million each, or realign it to agencies, as their counterparts in the House of Representatives have done.
The House last Tuesday approved on final reading the proposed 2014 budget, realigning some P25.2 billion-PDAF to six agencies.
House representatives, however, retained the power to propose infrastructure projects early in the budgeting process so they could be included in the line item budgeting.
Before the budget measure is transmitted to the Senate, Sen. Francis Escudero filed a resolution for the PDAF to be deleted and deducted from the National Expenditure Program for 2014.
Drilon followed suit last week by filing a resolution totally scrapping PDAF from the budget without realigning it. If all senators agree to this, some P4.8 billion would be deducted from the NEP, reducing the deficit.
So far, only a few administration senators have come out openly in support of this.
“I’m for total abolition, which means it will be deleted and deducted from the total budget. This will in turn make our yearly deficit less,’’ Sen. Paulo Benigno Aquino IV, the President’s cousin, said in a text message.
Sen. Sergio Osmeña III said abolition should be done by both chambers. He also favored realigning the PDAF to an agency, and allowing the lawmaker to identify projects on the condition this would be approved by the chamber.
The administration senators’ differences of opinion cropped up in last Wednesday’s caucus.
Majority Leader Alan Peter Cayetano, for instance, proposed that instead of being totally scrapped, the PDAF should be channeled to the calamity fund.
Other senators proposed the realignment of the PDAF to the military and government agencies, Estrada said.
“We just kept quiet,’’ Estrada said.
On Sunday, Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV said he intended to realign his PDAF to scholarships and medical assistance to indigent patients.
All the senators are expected to submit their individual stand on the disposition of their PDAF on Nov. 11 so these would be incorporated into the finance committee’s report on the 2014 budget.