House eyes P10B to P20B rehab fund for calamity areas in 2014 budget
Tacloban City is reduced to vast wasteland after the onslaught of super typhoon “Yolanda.” Video by INQUIRER.net’s Ryan Leagogo
MANILA, Philippines — The House of Representatives is batting for the creation of P10-billion to P20-billion rehabilitation fund in the 2014 budget to give President Aquino more stand-by funds to quicken a city or town’s recovery from extreme weather conditions.
In a briefing, Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr. said that leaders of the majority coalition met Tuesday morning and agreed to give the President more funds at his disposal as typhoons increase in force and area of devastation.
Belmonte said the rehabilitation fund would be on top of the stand-by funds of the President — P7.5 billion calamity fund and the P6 billion President’s social fund — that critics claimed were virtually the same as pork barrel funds of lawmakers because they were booked lump-sum in the budget and their release was subject to the discretion of the individual leader.
With the P2.268 trillion proposed budget in 2014 still pending on second reading in the Senate, Belmonte said the House would make the amendments during the bicameral conference committee level where the two chambers would meet to reconcile their versions.
“The President has the power to realign as we have always maintained but nonetheless, Congress should consider these tragedies and calamities that have been happening in the country. We decided to take the initiative to create that rehabilitation fund and we will see to it that the 2014 budget will not leave the bicam committee without the plan,” said Belmonte.
Belmonte said the Senate wanted to keep the rehabilitation fund at P10 billion or half of the P20 billion desired by the House leaders.
Belmonte proposed that the P20 billion be taken from the budget of other agencies allocated in the 2014 budget.
After taking out the P24 billion priority development assistance fund in the 2014 budget (the equivalent amount was spread out to hundreds of projects with several agencies handpicked by the lawmakers themselves), Belmonte said the House of Representatives has likewise dropped its bid to deploy the remaining half of its pork barrel funds this year. The Supreme Court issued a temporary restraining order on the PDAF last August as it tackled cases questioning the legality of the pork barrel system.
The House issued Joint Resolution 7 “waiving all rights to the unreleased balance of the 2013 PDAF and authorizing the executive department to realign the same to the calamity fund” in view of the spate of natural and man-made disasters that struck the country this year, most recently the “supertyphoon Yolanda.”
“With this waiver, the impounded PDAF is now effectively converted into savings and the President may now use the funds for repair, improvement and renovation of government buildings and infrastructure in disaster areas,” said Belmonte.
Belmonte said that the House has already instructed the Office of the Solicitor General to make representation with the Supreme Court that it was “not interested in the almost P12 billion in remaining pork this year.
Ako Bikol Rep. Rodel Batocabe, who also filed a separate resolution seeking to realign the frozen pork to calamity funds together with Albay Rep. Al Francis Bichara, said it was “providential” that the three branches of government would have to work together to carry out the realignment of the frozen pork.
“We need the concurrence of the House, the lifting of TRO by the SC and approval for release by the President. It seems that God wants us to unite as a nation for the good of our people after the pork barrel scam, DAP (Disbursement Acceleration Program) and corruption issues in the judiciary,” said Batocabe.
Belmonte said that the House leaders also filed Resolution No. 446 mandating the deduction of P10,000 from this month’s salary of each of the 289 members of the House as part of their contribution to victims of Yolanda.
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