Lawmakers’ hearts bleed for scholars, sick constituents without PDAF benefits
MANILA—A number of lawmakers said Tuesday they respected the Supreme Court’s temporary restraining order on the release of the Priority Development Assistance Fund, but lamented that it would adversely affect constituents such as students who depend on the pork barrel to pay their tuition for the coming semester or for the sick whose medical treatments need to continue.
Marikina Rep. Romero “Miro” Quimbo said the TRO “further complicates” things for lawmakers who are trying to determine how to continue helping their constituents with the possible abolition of the PDAF in 2014.
Quimbo said that for the rest of 2013, there was a cessation of release of pork barrel funds but only until authorities are able to resolve issues regarding its use. But with the TRO, the entire matter is out of Congress’ hands.
“It’s October soon and it’s enrollment time. What will happen now? Whether it’s the congressman dispensing it or whether it’s the DepEd, that TRO effectively stops it,” he said in an interview.
“I hope the court will decide on it soonest because it really involves private individuals who go to the Philippine General Hospital, National Kidney and Transplant Institute and local and provincial hospitals on a regular basis using this PDAF,” he added.
Eastern Samar Rep. Ben Evardone said he hoped the Supreme Court would understand that lawmakers help provide for the needs of their impoverished constituents.
“I just hope that the SC will be cognizant of the scholarship and medical needs of our constituents, particularly the poor and those in crisis situation,” Evardone said in a text message
Abakada partylist Rep. Jonathan Dela Cruz said lawmakers were supportive of the public and the President’s call to abolish the PDAF, but added that they were concerned about the needs of the people in their districts.
“That’s the reason that even with the TRO, some clarifications would have to be requested,” Dela Cruz said.
He noted that some lawmakers support scholars, who may need to pay tuition in the coming semester so that they could take their final exams, as well as sick constituents.
“What would happen if your scholars can’t pay their tuition? What will you do if there are hospitalization bills?” he said.
But Buhay Rep. Lito Atienza said something is amiss when congressmen have the discretion to spend public funds that they themselves had allocated, which is why the Supreme Court should eventually declare the pork barrel unconstitutional.
Atienza said he hoped the Supreme Court’s issuance of a temporary restraining order against the release of lawmakers’ PDAF and money from the Malamapaya funds, which are under the President’s control, would lead to the permanent abolition of the pork barrel.
“We can’t appropriate and also decide how it will be spent. It should be unconstitutional for lawmakers to appropriate, approve, and spend the same money all rolled into one,” he told reporters.
He also noted that even during the campaign, he already vowed not to access his pork barrel allocation.
The House of Representatives is poised to remove the P25-billion PDAF from the 2014 budget and redistribute the amount to executive agencies. This comes in the wake of a raging controversy concerning the pork barrel funds, which were allegedly diverted to bogus non-governmental organizations for ghost projects, and eventually lined private pockets.
The Supreme Court’s TRO against the release of money from the PDAF and Malampaya funds came a day after 57 neophyte members of the House issued a manifesto supporting the abolition of the PDAF.
The lawmakers lamented that the pork barrel controversy had eroded the people’s trust in public institutions, and urged government agencies to exert all efforts to investigate, prosecute, and convict all those responsible for plundering the people’s money, regardless of political affiliations or personal ties.
“We are particularly incensed that the reprehensible actions of the public officials involved in these scams have besmirched the integrity of a number of institutions, including the House of Representatives, and undone years of honest work by their more upright colleagues in public service,” they said in their statement.