5 things you need to know about People’s Initiative Against Pork Barrel
MANILA, Philippines – The Abolish Pork Movement has announced their plan to pass a law that would permanently prohibit all forms of lump sum discretionary funds, or pork barrel, in government through a People’s Initiative.
The draft four-page bill, named “The Pork Barrel Abolition Act,” recommends one to 10 years imprisonment and perpetual disqualification from public office for government officials found to have spent money on projects not stated in the budget of the government.
The following are the salient points of the bill:
1. Definition of Pork Barrel
The bill defines “Pork Barrel” as any “lump sum public fund” over which only one official has the power to decide where and what it will be spent on.
Lump sum is defined under Section 3, Paragraph (b) as “a fund that is not itemized or does not specify a determinate amount.”
“A lump sum appropriation is a single but divisible sum of money which serves as a funding source for multiple purposes,” the bill states. A lump sum appropriation however does not specify projects nor the amount that should go for each.
Bayan Muna Representative Neri Colmenares said that “lump sum funds should be prohibited in the budget. The reason why you have a budget in the first place is so you can predict the things you need to spend on. If you put the funds in a lump sum, it is pork barrel.”
“Pork barrel is public fund where only one person decides on which project or who the beneficiary is. If its not itemized in the budget and only one person decided, its pork barrel,” he said.
The bill exempts appropriations for relief and rescue operations due to natural disasters because “you cannot really predict calamities,” Colmenares said.
Intelligence funds of the National Security Council (NSC), Department of National Defense (DND), and Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) are also exempted but shall be subject to a special audit by the Commission on Audit (COA).
2. Savings and realignment
The bill prohibits the realigning of savings to projects that have not been included in the budget. The savings shall go back to the national treasury after all projects listed in the budget have been completed.
Section 4, paragraph (c) states that “all unspent, unreleased, and unobligated funds of any government agency by the end of the fiscal year shall remain in or revert to the General Fund and shall not thereafter be available for expenditure except by a subsequent appropriation law.”
Colmenares said that the practice in government has been to increase their proposed budget, for example from P100 billion to P150 billion, so that at the end of the year there will be P50 billion savings “which can be used at their discretion.”
“Savings is actually pork barrel, in a sense. Its a lump sum where only one person decides where it will go to. We cannot disallow it because it is under the constitution,” he said.
The bill states that savings can only be used “to augment” projects that are already listed in the budget and only within the same year.
“We will allow that but you may only augment your office, it should not be spread to other offices. Secondly it must only be done in the same fiscal year, if it will be allocated for a project in the next year, it should be itemized in the budget for next year,” Colmenares said.
3. Presidential Social Fund
The bill mandates the abolition of the “Presidential Social Fund” which the president gets directly from the earnings of the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation (PAGCOR).
Section 12 of Presidential Decree 1869 states that “the share of the Government in the aggregate may be appropriated and allocated to fund and finance infrastructure and/or socio-civic projects throughout the Philippines as may be directed and authorized by the Office of the President of the Philippines.”
According to Colmenares, this is a type of pork barrel of the president just like P132 billion Malampaya Fund and the P449 billion Special Purposes Fund.
“It does not pass through Congress,” he said. “It can be given to their allies. Even if a congressman does not have any PDAF anymore, he can receive funds from the Presidential Social Fund.”
The bill states that the government’s share of PAGCOR earnings will be remitted to the national treasury and can only be spent in accordance with the budget passed by Congress. The president’s power to allocate funds for “the restoration of damaged or destroyed facilities due to calamities” will be revoked.
4. Special Offenses
The bill recommends jail terms of one to 10 years and perpetual disqualification from public office for national officials found to have (1) spent money on projects not in the government budget, (2) includes lump sum appropriations in the budget, (3) prevents the release of funds for items listed in the budget, and (4) intervenes in the way funds are spent that is contrary to the budget.
“If it is not in the budget, funds should be not spent for it,” Colmenares said. “In the budget process, a government agency gathers data on what projects need to be done. It will be collated and becomes their budget proposal for the following year.
“Government agencies should not come to Congress and say that they need P20 billion for road repairs. They should specify which roads need repairs,” he said.
The bill states that both national officials and Congressmen can be held liable for including and approving a lump sum appropriation. Relief and rescue and intelligence funds remain exempted.
Section 7, paragraph (d) prohibits members of Congress or their representatives from intervening in the spending of the budget such as “identification or endorsement of projects, beneficiaries, or contractors or assuming authority or exercising influence in the release, allocation, or realignment of [the budget].”
The bill also states that all national officials are prohibited from “impounding” funds that have already been appropriated in the budget except when the president declares there is an “unmanageable national government budget deficit.”
Private individuals may also suffer the same penalties as the government officials if they “persuade, influence, or cooperate with any national official in violating any of the provisions of this act.”
Colmenares said that through this law, violators will be easier to prosecute saying it will be like illegal possesion of firearms which only considers two questions: Does the person have a firearm? and does he have a permit for it?
If the person answers “no” to the second question, then “That’s it. Guilty,” Colmenares said.
“With the passage of this law, I won’t need a whistleblower, I won’t need documents [to prosecute]. The fact is, if you inserted a lump sum fund, the case is done,” he said.
5. How many signatures needed
The bill will be brought before a People’s Congress in Cebu City on Aug. 23, 2014 where they will finalize and approve the bill.
The bill will then be campaigned nationwide for signatures. The bill needs to get at the signatures of least 10 percent of total registered voters nationwide or around 5.2 million, three percent of which must come from each district.
Once the 10 percent is reached, the signatures will be submitted to the Commission on Elections which will then call for a referendum within one to two months. It will ask the public whether they approve or disapprove the bill.
“If majority answer yes, the law is passed. There is not veto,” Colmenares said.
“It’s not very difficult, I think we can get more than 5.2 million signatures,” he said.
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.