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Drilon tells Abad: Specify lump sums in nat’l budget

Budget Secretary Florencio Abad was asked on Thursday by Senate President Franklin Drilon to specify lump sum, or “pork,” allocations in the proposed P3-trillion national budget for next year.

Drilon’s demand was prompted by Sen. Sergio Osmeña III’s insistence that pork remained in the budget.

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On the second day of the briefing of the administration’s economic managers on the 2016 budget, Osmeña said many countries granted “legal” pork barrel to lawmakers. He said stealing these funds made the practice illegal.

Drilon told Abad to explain lump-sum appropriations in the proposed budget “where it is logical to specify” after former Sen. Panfilo Lacson announced moves to question in the Supreme Court the alleged reincarnation in this year’s budget of the funding system the high tribunal had declared unconstitutional.

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At Thursday’s hearing, Drilon looked at the lump-sum appropriations in the National Expenditure Program and suggested that Abad specify project items, for instance, in the rehabilitation of areas devastated by Supertyphoon “Yolanda” (international name: Haiyan).

“(Yolanda) happened more than two years ago. I’m sure there are specific projects that can be pointed to for purposes of the P18.9 billion (earmarked for reconstruction). We can already submit to the public where are these projects going in order to dispel unfounded allegations in lump sums,” Drilon said.

Abad said the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) would make a presentation of these projects.

Specifics

To reporters later, Drilon said: “I asked (Abad) to specify the areas where it is logical to specify.”

He stressed there were lump sums that could not be specified, such as calamity funds “because you would not know how many calamities would visit us” as well as lump-sum funds for death benefits of barangay (village) officials.

If critics said these funds should be itemized, Drilon said then the names of those who were entitled to death benefits should be specified.

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“You can’t push this to its illogical conclusions, so let us be rational about this,” he added.

Drilon also said the Supreme Court, in its ruling on the Priority Development Assistance Program (PDAF), “never intended that all lump sums should be disaggregated because they realized it is impractical to do so.”

That’s why he said he was confident any case to be filed against the lump-sum funds in the national budget would not prosper.

Definition of terms

During the hearing, Osmeña asked Abad to define pork barrel.

Abad said that pork barrel funds had been defined by the Supreme Court when it outlawed the PDAF.

But the senator said the high court did not define pork barrel funds in its ruling last year, only stating that it was a “violation of a budget rule that you could not declare savings except at the end of the year.”

Osmeña defined pork barrel as “appropriation for government spending for localized projects geared solely or primarily to bring money to a representative’s district.”

He cited an example of a congressman who “approaches the President and says, ‘Mr. President, can I have an extra P10 million for my bridge, otherwise I’m going to lose in the election.’”

This is being done in the United States, for instance, where these funds are earmarked in the budget, he said.

Osmeña said US President Barack Obama, “enamored with his Mr. Clean image,” had initially refused to sign the budget but had to do so when reminded that the US government would not have a spending bill.

“It’s just I feel funny when I read what is pork barrel, and they haven’t defined it, so they are at the mercy of Secretary Abad because the secretary has a definite definition as narrow as possible so he can say in all truth there is no pork barrel,” Osmeña said.

Not illegal per se

To reporters later, Osmeña maintained pork barrel funds were not illegal as “it’s being done all over the world.”

“Every budget has pork. From now, long until we’re dead and our great grandchildren, there will be pork. Otherwise, we’ll never get anything through Congress,” he said.

“It is legal pork. What is illegal is stealing … It was the stealing of the PDAF that is against the law. It was not the PDAF, that’s not illegal,” he said.

Osmeña also said lump sums were not pork.

“But they made it a lump sum so they don’t have to break it down. We might perhaps see that Congressman X and Congressman Y have [funds for] hospitals. Because that’s really distributed throughout the districts. So it’s obvious and that’s why they put it in lump sums,” he said.

Asked whether he intended to pursue these “pork” projects in the budget deliberations, he said he would leave this to the scrutiny of Bayan Muna \representatives who had started to question it in the House budget deliberation.

“Let them do the work,” Osmeña said.

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TAGS: Florencio Abad, Franklin Drilon, lump sums, National Budget, Pork barrel, Senate, Sergio Osmeña III
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