Drilon: If you can find pork in budget, go to SC
MANILA, Philippines—Senate President Franklin Drilon on Wednesday dared those who are alleging that the pork barrel has returned in the proposed P2.606-trillion 2015 budget to go to the Supreme Court to complain.
“[The issue] can always be brought back to the Supreme Court if there is such an issue, such a system (pork barrel),” Drilon told reporters. “The budget is open to examination,” he said.
After the high court declared the priority development assistance fund (PDAF), the official name of pork barrel, unconstitutional, Congress scrapped it in the 2014 national budget.
Drilon and Sen. Francis Escudero, the chair of the finance committee, maintained that there is no PDAF in the 2015 budget.
They said they could not trace the P37.3-billion pork barrel or lump-sum funds that Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago has alleged have been allotted to five agencies.
In a privilege speech last Monday, Santiago alleged that the 2015 budget carried lump-sum appropriations that could be spent at the discretion of legislators.
Lawmakers have recommended projects for their own districts in the 2015 budget, as they did in the past, an act that smacked of “pork barrelism,” she said.
The P37.3 billion was allotted for certain projects in the public works, health, social welfare and labor departments, and the Commission on Higher Education, Santiago said.
Matter of principle
Drilon insisted that the proposed 2015 budget does not allow legislators to interfere in the post-execution of the budget.
“As a matter of principle, the ability of legislators before to participate in the post-budget activities—meaning a lump sum is in the budget called the PDAF and then, the legislator will identify a project to be funded by that PDAF—that is not there in the budget,” he said.
Drilon categorically answered “yes,” when asked if there was no PDAF in the 2015 budget.
He said that while lawmakers have identified projects in the 2015 budget, these would still be subject to review.
“It can be disapproved either by Congress acting on the budget, or the President can exercise a line item veto,” he said.
Drilon admitted he didn’t know the details of the P37.3-billion lump sums that Santiago was referring to.
Escudero said he also could not find the figure in the budgets of the five agencies identified by Santiago.
“How can I break it up? I don’t know what she was referring to. She did not tag. How can I itemize it?” he said.
To ensure transparency, Escudero said the Senate has introduced a provision in the proposed 2015 budget penalizing department heads if they fail to file a report itemizing the lump sums.
Itemize or else
“They should submit a special budget itemizing the availment of that fund. This should be in line item. As soon as they avail of it, we will see it,” he said. Otherwise, the agencies cannot use the funds, he said.
“We provided a penalty of six months’ suspension, or imprisonment of one year, or a fine equivalent to six months’ salary if they fail to submit. We’re holding responsible the head of agency,” Escudero said.
Lump-sum funds would be rendered “irrelevant” once agencies file reports itemizing these, he said.
Meanwhile, antipork barrel activists have implored the Senate in an open letter to shun “any and all forms of pork barrel, whether congressional or presidential,” in the proposed budget for 2015.
In a letter hand-delivered to Escudero on Tuesday, the activists said it was now up to the senators to end the system of pork barrel politics, noting that the version passed by the House of Representatives retained features of the PDAF and the similarly outlawed Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP) of Malacañang.
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