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3 lawmakers assail tight Palace hold on pork

Zambales Rep. Milagros Magsaysay. congress.gov.ph photo

Three lawmakers on Tuesday assailed Malacañang’s tightening grip on the pork barrel, saying that Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr. had been “marginalized” by Budget Secretary Florencio “Butch” Abad Jr. in the release.

“It’s an insult to allies of President Aquino that the budget secretary does not trust them on how they would spend their pork barrel for whatever they intended it for,” said Zambales Representative Milagros Magsaysay, a deputy minority leader.

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She was among the five members of the House of Representatives who last year did not get their P70-million share of pork barrel, also known as the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF),  which finances pet projects of representatives and senators.

Magsaysay lashed out at Abad and members of the ruling Liberal Party in the House for “making life difficult” for both allies and foes in getting their pork barrel allocations.

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Abad and other leaders of the Liberal Party said that while pork barrel allocations had been tightened, almost all members of Congress, both administration allies, minority members and party-list groups, were getting their shares, unlike during the previous administration.

Stringent requirements

The new requirements set by the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) to tighten the release of pork include the following:

  • Only one realignment will be allowed.
  • Certain department secretaries can approve the realignment as long as infrastructure projects fall under the same implementing unit and category as the original purpose.
  • The provision allowing lawmakers to use up to 10 percent of their pork as quick-response fund for relief operations has been removed.
  • Projects should conform with the priority list or standard design prepared by implementing agencies.
  • The scope of work and type of equipment should be indicated aside from the location and cost of projects.
  • The number of units to be built for housing projects and certification that a site is available should be produced.
  • The type of vehicle and number of units to be purchased, engine displacement and names of recipients should be submitted.
  • The number of scholars, health beneficiaries and names of schools and hospitals should be listed for education and health projects.

Power of purse

Navotas Representative Tobias M. Tiangco said Belmonte should have not given up control of Congress’ power of the purse that easily to Malacañang.

“How can we gain any leverage from Malacañang when we need something from them if we gave up our powers so effortlessly when we do not need anything from them? The budget secretary has really emasculated the Speaker this time,” said Tiangco.

While testifying at the impeachment trial of Chief Justice Renato Corona, the Navotas representative said the PDAF was used as a carrot to spur lawmakers into supporting the administration’s impeachment initiatives, including the one that sought the ouster of former Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez in 2011.

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“The Speaker has been of little help in asserting the right of his members to their pork barrel,” said Tiangco.

Belmonte did not reply to the Inquirer’s text messages. Deputy Speaker Lorenzo Tañada III denied that the Speaker had been marginalized by the budget secretary. But he declined to elaborate, saying that the Speaker was in a better position to give his side.

Time for budget reforms

Kabataan Representative Raymond V. Palatino said that Malacañang’s tight-fisted policy on the pork barrel evoked the totalitarian control in the martial law years.

“It’s a Marcos-era legacy when the Palace, through the DBM, asserts its control in the chamber. This policy reflects the undemocratic budget process, proof of how difficult it is for even the Speaker to assert his independence from the Palace. It’s time to reform the budget system, [make it] more participatory and transparent, [and push for] less control from Palace,” said Palatino.

President Aquino’s spokesperson said no politics was involved in tightening the release of lawmakers’ pork.

For accountability

Secretary Edwin Lacierda said the standards drawn by the DBM were meant to ensure that the pork barrel was used properly.

“We support the position taken by Secretary Butch Abad and again, we are all for transparency and accountability,” Lacierda said at a news briefing in Malacañang.

Asked if the 2013 elections and the political affiliations of lawmakers would be factors in the release of PDAF, Lacierda said, “To my knowledge, we have given to most of the congressmen. So it’s more to ensure that the funds are properly used.”

Lacierda made the remarks after Abad said the administration had “fine-tuned” the list of projects eligible for the P28.89-billion pork barrel allocation for 2012 and procedures for its release.

A few weeks back, Lacierda said it was the administration’s policy to make sure that all congressional districts get assistance from the national government.

Magsaysay’s case

Citing the case of Magsaysay, however, Lacierda said the administration would rather directly pour money into projects for her constituents instead of releasing funds from the  PDAF.

“The position of the administration is that no one should be left behind,” Lacierda said then.

“There are those who are like Congresswoman Mitos Magsaysay. She is against the administration, she is against our policies. Our concern is if you’re not helping us in our programs, in our policies, we might as well go straight to your constituents and help the constituents,” he added.

Lacierda said doing that would not deprive the constituents of the lawmaker of assistance from the national government through the PDAF.

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TAGS: 2013 elections, Congress, Government, Politics, Pork barrel
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