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2 Mindanao lawmakers hit ‘pork barrel-like’ Bangsamoro annual budget

/ 05:49 PM March 03, 2015

MANILA, Philippines—Two Mindanao lawmakers on Tuesday questioned the huge amount of funds that will be pooled into the new entity once the Bangsamoro basic bill (BBL) is passed and implemented, with one solon calling the annual budget for the Bangsamoro the localized “pork barrel.”

In a press conference, Zamboanga City Rep. Celso Lobregat noted the annual “lump sum” block grant as enshrined in the BBL.

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The grant, equivalent to four percent of the net national internal revenue collection sans the internal revenue allotment (IRA), is an automatic appropriation for the Bangsamoro meant to help the newly created entity financially until it is capable of standing on its own feet.

Lobregat said the block grant, which may amount to at least P70 to P75 billion per year, need not go through congressional scrutiny and thus need not be placed under the guidelines of the Department of Budget and Management (DBM).

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The lack of mechanisms over the block grant is problematic, making the lump sum fund akin to the “pork barrel-like” IRA, the local government unit’s annual share from the proceeds of the national internal revenue taxes.

The congressional pork barrel or Priority Development Assistance Funds (PDAF) was struck down as unconstitutional at the height of public outcry over the corruption scandal involving lawmakers and accused mastermind Janet Lim-Napoles. The PDAF and other pork barrel have been known as a political patronage tool subject to the discretion of those in power.

Lobregat said according to the Bangsamoro bill, the block grant need only go through the Bangsamoro parliament which will pass its own budget bill.

“The block grant will not pass through Congress. It will not be subject to DBM rules. It’s like a lump sum … You can liken it to IRA but IRA is subject to so many guidelines,” Lobregat said.

Davao City Rep. Karlo Nograles said the BBL may be found unconstitutional because the Bangsamoro will be receiving more funds than the other LGUs.

“One of the concerns shared by a lot of congressman is with regard to the money. It will give the Bangsamoro entity a lot more funds than many other LGUs, and therefore that will give them undue advantage over many LGUs,” Nograles said.

“There is a question of equality of the law that can also be raised as something that can be struck down as unconstitutional, by the Supreme Court,” he added.

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For his part, ways and means chair Marikina Rep. Romero Quimbo said Congress will make sure there are safeguards to protect the Bangsamoro annual budget from funds misuse, and to avoid a repeat of the alleged corruption in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) under the term of then regional governor and Moro National Liberation Front founder Nur Misuari.

The bill seeks to replace ARMM with a more politically autonomous Bangsamoro entity.

“We certainly cannot give an amount without putting in place the necessary safeguards that will prevent another ARMM from taking place. Baka pwedeng abusuhin ’yan tulad ng nakaraan. Kung walang kaakibat na reporma, baka babalik tayo sa dati (It may be subject to abuse just like before. If there will be no reforms, we will only go back to how things used to be),” Quimbo said.

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TAGS: Bangsamoro basic bill, Celso Lobregat, Karlo Nograles, Pork barrel, Priority Development Assistance Funds, Romero Quimbo
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