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Aquino allies downplay anti-‘pork’ rally

/ 03:51 PM August 25, 2014

House appropriations chair Rep. Isidro Ungab. Photo from congress.gov.ph

MANILA, Philippines — Allies of President Benigno Aquino III in the House of Representatives downplayed criticisms of the protesters in Monday’s anti-pork barrel rally, saying the lower chamber has ensured that the proposed P2.6 trillion national budget in 2015 will be rid of the allegedly graft-ridden discretionary funds.

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Davao City Rep. Isidro Ungab, who chairs the House appropriation committee, said Congress is working on passing a ‘pork’-free budget amid allegations that some lawmakers connived with government officials and accused mastermind Janet Lim-Napoles in pocketing millions of the congressional pork Priority Development Assistance Funds (PDAF). The PDAF was struck down
by the Supreme Court at the height of the scandal.

“The public can expect that Congress is definitely working for the enactment of a pork barrel-free budget in accordance with the law, the Constitution and the final rulings of the Supreme Court,” Ungab said in a text message on Monday.

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He also said lump sum items that remain in the budget will have to be itemized by the executive department as “part of Congress’ safeguard measure and in ensuring a pork barrel-free 2015 General Appropriations Act (GAA).”

Ungab noted though that there are lump sum items that cannot be itemized such as calamity funds and contingency funds.

“With regard to some lump sum items, which is only a small portion of the entire budget, part of Congress’ safeguard measure and in ensuring a pork barrel-free 2015 GAA is asking the Executive to submit an itemized appropriation of the same, except those whose nature cannot be disaggregated such as the calamity funds and contingency funds,” Ungab said.

The congressman was reacting to militant Bayan Muna solons’ claims that the President still enjoyed pork barrel funds in the 2015 budget.

“The President and his allies keep saying that there are no more pork barrel funds in the 2015 budget but we know otherwise because there are huge lump sums in the budget that can be nothing else but ‘pork’,” Rep. Neri Colmenares said in a statement on the day of the anti-pork barrel rally.

Meanwhile, another Aquino ally Eastern Samar Rep. Ben Evardone assured protesters that Congress “will look into the legitimate concerns of the ‘anti-pork’ rallyists” and “will scrutinize every item in the proposed 2015 budget to ensure transparency.”

Evardone also appealed to the protesters to be “more specific” in their accusations and “avoid general accusations on the budget.”

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“(This is) so that we will know if their demands are reasonable and can be accommodated based on law and the exigencies of governing. They should specify and justify the items in the budget which they consider as ‘pork,'” Evardone said in a statement on Monday.

Evardone also said the protesters should understand that some items cannot be itemized and are lump sum in nature, such as the Internal Revenue Allotment (IRA), debt-service, and the calamity and contingency funds.

Anti-pork barrel groups led by the Abolish Pork Movement are holding a campaign to gather 6 million signatures to pass a law that would scrap all lump sum funds in the national budget.

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TAGS: 2015 national budget, allies, Anti-Pork Barrel Rally, Ben Evardone, Congress, Isidro Ungab, lower house, lump sum, Neri Colmenares, Pork barrel
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