Palace asks: What pork?
MANILA, Philippines–What pork? Define pork.
On the eve of a massive protest to be held at Rizal Park in Manila on Monday, Malacañang on Sunday maintained that the graft-ridden pork barrel had been scrapped.
“We disagree that the pork barrel system remains in the 2015 NEP (National Expenditure Program) submitted by the administration to Congress,” deputy presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte told the Inquirer.
In a text message, Budget Secretary Florencio Abad said he could “categorically” declare that the pork barrel no longer existed in the present budgeting system.
Various groups are staging a massive protest against the pork barrel at Rizal Park in Manila on Monday, a year after Filipinos, angered at learning from a series of Inquirer reports that legislators connived with a businesswoman to embezzle P10 billion from the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF), tried a Million People March in Luneta to demand the abolition of the pork barrel.
The rally, which had no leaders, failed to achieve the million-people objective, with the participants numbering only 85,000 to 100,000, according to Manila police. But the message hit home: President Aquino abolished the PDAF and ordered a line-item budgeting system to rid the budget of lump sums whose expenditure requires endorsement by lawmakers.
The PDAF, which the Supreme Court declared illegal, was a pork barrel that financed pet projects of legislators. But its abolition did not really deprive lawmakers of a source of kickbacks and patronage funds, as they continued to be allowed projects to be paid for with public funds under the new budgeting system.
Monday’s protesters aim to gather 6 million signatures to support a proposal for the abolition of the pork barrel. They are taking the campaign across the country to get 10 million signatures to support the people’s initiative bill that would scrap pork in budgeting.
Massive lump sums
The NEP submitted to Congress showed massive lump sums under what the administration calls Grassroots Participatory Budgeting Process (GPBP).
The Department of the Interior and Local Government alone had P1.37 billion, while the Department of Agriculture had P1.7 billion.
Another lump-sum item worth P2.78 billion was placed under the Local Government Support Fund.
A P5.5-million budget for Mahatao town, Bataan province, was listed as “project to be determined.”
Another P12.5-million project in Tingloy town, Batangas province, was still “to be determined.”
Still another project “to be determined” was for Cabuyao town in Laguna province and it was worth P7.5 million.
On Aug. 11, ACT Teachers Rep. Antonio Tinio disclosed purported audio recordings of closed-door discussions on the House committee on appropriations confirming the restoration in this year’s budget of
P20.7 billion in pork deleted from last year’s budget after the abolition of the PDAF.
Tinio submitted the recordings as part of the evidence supporting a complaint for the impeachment of President Aquino.
Some of Aquino’s allies in the House said they would file an ethics complaint against Tinio for disclosing confidential information obtained from a closed-door session.
Under fire for the lump-sum appropriations, the Department of Budget and Management uploaded a list on its website detailing how the P20.8-billion fund under the GPBP would be spent.
Abad, the brains behind the Disbursement Acceleration Program that the Supreme Court struck down on July 1, questioned how the protesters defined “pork barrel” in the people’s initiative bill.
“First of all, the group has to define what it means by pork barrel,” he said.
Citing the Supreme Court ruling, Abad said pork barrel referred to “lump sums in the budget that require postenactment intervention of legislators during budget execution, except in the exercise of their oversight function.”
“Do they accept that definition? If not, how do they define pork barrel?” Abad asked.
“If the objective of the campaign is not clear, how will the people know what they’re voting on? It’s easy to say abolish pork by way of a campaign slogan. But what that really means has to be clear,” he said.
The people’s initiative bill defines pork barrel as “a lump-sum public fund with sole discretion given to the President, legislator or group of legislators, or any public officer” on how it will be spent.
“The exercise of discretion by public officers relates to the allocation, release or use of these public funds, the identification or selection of projects, implementers or beneficiaries, or any or a combination of or all of these,” it adds.
In a people’s initiative, the goal is to collect at least 5.2 million signatures representing at least 10 percent of registered voters nationwide for the bill to become law. The number should also represent at least 3 percent of voters in each legislative district.
Valte said the way some of the protesters defined pork barrel was “so broad” that it covered even “funds that are obviously not pork, like the calamity and contingency funds.”
“The fact that pertinent laws allow some measure of discretion in the disbursement of these funds within set parameters automatically qualifies as pork by the definition set by these groups is unrealistic and not cognizant of the flexibility allowed by the Constitution,” Valte said.
“A review of the budgets submitted by the Aquino administration to Congress shows a systematic effort to reform the budget,” she said.
Valte pointed to the proposed P2.6-trillion budget for 2015, which “disaggregated lump sums as far as practicable without adversely affecting [the] government’s ability to respond to the people’s needs in extraordinary or unforeseen circumstances.”
Malacañang earlier justified the inclusion of a P501-million lump-sum item in next year’s budget—the Special Purpose Fund—saying that doing so was a “best management practice,” which was also done by private companies.
“Based on established management practice, it is customary that a certain portion of the annual budget is set aside for contingency expenditures that are essentially variable and not amenable to precise determination at the time of budget preparation,” Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma said.–With a report from Inquirer Research
Originally posted: 10:10 pm | Sunday, August 24th, 2014
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