‘Porkless’ budget passes; Aquino gets to keep P450B | Inquirer News
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‘Porkless’ budget passes; Aquino gets to keep P450B

Amid the public outrage over the pork barrel system, the House of Representatives has formally “removed” a total of P25.4 billion in the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) from the P2.268-trillion national budget for next year.

But the House members chose not to touch the P450-billion “special purpose funds”—which critics have referred to as the President’s own pork barrel— when they passed the budget bill on second reading shortly before 2:30 a.m. Saturday.

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ACT Teachers Rep. Antonio Tinio—who, with other minority members, bombarded budget sponsors with questions during the 16 days and 110 hours of plenary debates—placed the presidential pork barrel in the neighborhood of P964 billion.

“The House has moved to abolish the age-old PDAF not only as a response to public outcry but as a first step toward arresting any possible abuse of the same, even as we continue to explore the best possible alternative means to still afford our people with the social services and other needs they require,” Speaker Feliciano Belmonte announced before session adjourned.

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The decision to scrap the PDAF and realign it to six key government agencies came more than a month after the Million People March on Aug. 26, which set off a series of protest actions against the pork barrel system.

Three senators and several House representatives are facing plunder charges before the Ombudsman for the alleged misuse of their PDAF allocations, a racket that came to light following a series of Inquirer exposes.

But minority congressmen doubted that the pork barrel has indeed been eliminated.

Is pork really gone?

“Are we and the nation assured that this budget that we are about to act on is genuinely rid of the despicable pork barrel, or Priority Development Assistance Fund, as it was identified in the originally proposed budget to which the Majority  Leader presented a document, which showed its formal abolition?” Buhay Rep. Lito Atienza manifested before plenary voting commenced.

Shortly before 2 a.m., Gabriela member Luz Ilagan moved to transfer the President’s own lump-sum appropriations to the “regular” budget of agencies. Davao City Rep. Isidro Ungab, chair of the committee on appropriations, rejected the proposal, which was eventually defeated by voice vote.

Bayan Muna Rep. Neri Colmenares earlier appealed to his colleagues “not to allow big lump-sum [appropriations] in the budget of the President and off-budget items like the Malampaya Fund.”

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“Let’s not allow that in the end, it would just be the President who would decide where all the money would go,” he said in Filipino.

“It’s about time we take the power of the purse back here in this Congress,” he added, arguing that after all the congressional debates and deliberations, the President could ultimately “realign, disapprove or withhold huge amounts.”

Dividing up PDAF

Under the system, a total of P25.2 billion in PDAF, plus Vice President Jejomar Binay’s P200-million pork barrel, will now go to education, health care, employment support, infrastructure and “assistance to persons in crisis.”

Of the total, the Department of Health and the Department of Labor and Employment will each get P3.691 billion, while the Department of Social Welfare and Development will receive P4.713 billion.

The Commission on Higher Education will now have P2.669 billion for scholarship programs and the Department of Education, P1.022 billion.

Up to 5 projects

By far the biggest slice of P25.2 billion, or P9.954 billion, will go to the Department of Public Works and Highways, for the implementation of infrastructure projects to be “recommended” by congressmen following a new “menu.”

The new guidelines limit such projects to local roads and bridges, classrooms or academic buildings, multipurpose buildings and water supply systems. All but party-list representatives can propose infrastructure projects only within their respective districts.

Congressmen were asked to “propose” up to five infrastructure projects, each with a budget ceiling of P24.5 million per legislator. Each project should amount to no less than P2 million and the list ought to have been submitted by Sept. 25.

Before the session adjourned, a five-man committee was formed to receive amendments, mostly specific infrastructure projects, to be itemized in the budget bill before it is considered for third reading on Oct. 14.

Under the new system, it would appear that congressmen have lost their discretion over “soft projects,” like scholarships and medical assistance programs.

Eastern Samar Rep. Ben Evardone, vice chair of the appropriations committee, earlier said that legislators would not be “at the mercy” of Cabinet members, who would supposedly have the final say on such projects. He said agencies may be required to submit quarterly reports so congressmen could know how their old PDAF was not being spent.

Zeroing in on Aquino pork

With congressional pork having been moved to the regular budget, some congressmen zeroed in on the President’s own lump-sum appropriations.

In a statement, Leyte Rep. Ferdinand Martin Romualdez said his own minority group “cannot, in conscience, accept the retention of the P1-trillion pork barrel of President Aquino in the 2014 budget without clear-cut guidelines and details on what and how will it be spent.”

“Unless the purpose is revealed, we don’t know where the money goes to,” Romualdez said.

Like the Makabayan bloc, the Romualdez group assailed the “special purpose fund (SPF),” of which the P25.2-billion congressional PDAF was only about 5.5 percent. At almost P450 billion, the SPF is about a fifth of the entire national budget.

“We cannot vote for a GAA (General Appropriations Act), which is just a parody of the ‘power of the purse’ of Congress. What we have is ‘the power of the coin purse,’” Romualdez said.

The Romualdez bloc called for the abolition of the entire SPF. Off-budget items, like the P130-billion government share from the Malampaya Fund and the P12.5-billion motor vehicles users’ charge, should be “integrated” in the regular budget, the group demanded.

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TAGS: ACT Teachers Rep. Antonio Tinio, Benigno Aquino III, Ferdinand Romualdez, House of Representatives, Jejomar Binay, million people march, National Budget, PDAF, Pork Barrel Fund, pork barrel system, pork scam, President Aquino, Priority Development Assistance Fund, Speaker Feliciano Belmonte, special purpose funds, SPF
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