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Lawmakers protest unreleased pork, says funds withheld to window-dress budget

/ 07:49 PM June 12, 2011

MANILA, Philippines — The national budget is meant to be spent to stimulate the economy, and not kept as savings.

House Assistant Majority Leader and Davao City Rep. Karlo Alexei Nograles joined the chorus of lawmakers grumbling over the failure of Budget Secretary Florencio Abad Jr. to give lawmakers the first half of the P70-million priority development assistance fund or widely known as pork barrel.

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“This is the first time Congress adjourned sine die with congressmen and congresswomen coming home to their respective districts with nothing. What’s happening?” asked Nograles

Nograles said that the DBM’s under-spending was hurting the economy.

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“Congress did not approve the budget for them to save. We allocated the budget for them to spend so it may redound to the benefit of the Filipino people. Taxpayers pay taxes so government can use the money for worthy projects that will redound to the benefit of taxpayers and all Filipinos,’’ said Nograles.

“If taxpayers pay taxes to government and government does not use the money to benefit taxpayers, that’s like stealing from the taxpayers.” he said.

Davao del Sur Rep. Douglas Cagas IV claimed that the Aquino administration was holding back the release of pork barrel funds especially from minority lawmakers to “window-dress’’ the budget in time for the President’s State of the Nation Address in July.

In a privilege speech, Cagas said: “A superficial glance on the income and expenses of this government will show that some sort of savings has been had as of date. These are actually our congressional initiatives that need, even demand, proper taking care of. Are these real savings?’’

Cagas said representatives normally submitted their menu of projects to the Department of Budget and Management in February for the first half of their P70 million annual pork barrel (the next menu is submitted in August for the second half). The DBM usually issues the SARO or special allotment release orders and the NCA notice of cash allotment a month after the projects were submitted.

But with only three weeks left in the first half, Cagas expressed concern that a significant number of lawmakers, including those from the administration, have not received their share.

“We have been delayed, if not deprived of the proper implementation of these allotments that it would already overlap into another fiscal year. This will be the second adjournment in a row that this representation has failed to see the form of either SARO or NCA,’’ said Cagas.

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House Speaker Feliciano Belmonte claimed that the delay in pork barrel releases was due to the late submission of project menus by the lawmakers. Belmonte said that by his count, only 50 to 60 lawmakers out of the 285 members have not been given their SAROs and NCAs.

Cagas said that at the rate of P35 million each, the unreleased pork barrel of lawamkers would be reflected as P1.75 billion to P2.1 billion in savings for the government in the first half this year. “This would tend to paint a pretty picture of the government’s finances in the first half especially for the SONA. But this is misleading and a pain for our constituents,’’ said Cagas.

Nograles also questioned the administration’s promise to give all lawmakers their PDAF without delay whether political ally or foe.

“I was also informed that despite denials from Malacañang and repeated assurances that there will be no favoritism in this administration, there were a chosen few who got their SARO and NCA. The less fortunate got their SARO but no NCA or they were given only with a photocopy of their SARO, not original,” Norales said.

While pork barrel or countrywide development fund has taken a “negative connotation,” Cagas said this was largely undeserved because these discretionary funds provide destitute or underprivileged areas in the country with access to national funds for their infrastructure and social services project.

Cagas said that all the lawmakers’ work in Congress were meaningless if the allocations meant for their constituents were not given. “At the end of the day, we are still judged by how much pork we are able to take home for our constituents,’’ said Cagas.

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