MANILA, Philippines (Updated) – Members of the House of Representatives on Tuesday, November 12, announced they are waiving their right to the remaining P12-billion Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) for 2013 through House Joint Resolution No. 7 – on condition it would be used to bolster the executive’s calamity fund.
The court earlier issued a temporary restraining order against the PDAF after a number of groups questioned its constitutionality.
The resolution read: “In view of the Supreme Court Temporary Restraining Order, waiver of some members of Congress to use their allocations, and present impoundment of the remaining 2013 PDAF, the latter is now effectively converted into savings; hence, the President may realign the same for repair, improvement and renovation of government buildings and infrastructure and other capital assets damaged by natural calamities.”
This is a departure from Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr’s earlier position. In the aftermath of the Bohol earthquake, Senate President Franklin Drilon filed a resolution seeking to realign the senators’ 2013 PDAF to the calamity fund since it has “effectively been considered as savings.” Back then, Belmonte said he believed the remaining PDAF for 2013, being the subject of a TRO, can’t be realigned.
Senators unanimously approved Drilon’s proposal. But Malacañang itself has said it will not act on the resolution since the “legal situation” on the matter is “not that clear.” Earlier, Budget Secretary Florencio Abad said the Palace would rather wait for the Supreme Court to lift the TRO. (READ: Palace won’t touch impounded PDAF)
Belmonte said House Secretary-General Marilyn Barua-Yap is expected to make a formal manifestation before the Supreme Court on Tuesday, November 12, indicating House members’ willingness to waive their pork barrel so that it may be transferred to the executive’s coffers. This will make the funds available for use as a calamity fund.
Aside from letting go of their PDAF, the legislators have also agreed to donate at least P10,000 of their salary to victims of the calamity. There are 294 members of the House.
The House’s aid package for Yolanda victims was finalized after a series of consultations with economists and the budget department, Belmonte said. On Tuesday morning, House leaders from various political affiliations met to finalize the House’s relief assistance for Yolanda victims.
“We are now being helped strongly by foreign assistance and, in Congress, we will give due recognition to all the entities helping us but, of course, we have to help each other before anybody else,” Belmonte said.
More than 20 countries have pledged help for disaster-stricken areas. (READ: Yolanda (Typhoon Haiyan): Aid, donations from int’l community)
Meanwhile, the government is tapping about P16 billion of the President’s Social Fund and savings to fund relief and rehabilitation efforts.
Creation of a rehab fund for 2014
House members also plan to realign certain items in the proposed 2014 national budget to create a rehabilitation fund worth at least P10 billion to a maximum of P20 billion for the areas devasted by Yolanda.
What particular items in the budget would be realigned are still being considered by the appropriations committee, Belmonte said.
The final proposal will be made during the bicameral conference committee hearing on the proposed 2014 General Appropriations Act. Congress resumes session on Monday, November 18.
In the Senate, at least 4 senators have proposed to realign their PDAF for 2014 to the calamity fund. However, at least 14 want their pork barrel to be deleted from the budget completely. (READ: Most senators want ‘pork deleted, few opt for disaster aid.)
On whether the House will consider the PDAF-as-a-calamity-fund proposal, Belmonte said “it is an option.”
The House earlier realigned their pork barrel to 6 line agencies. Lawmakers abolished the PDAF system in the wake of allegations regarding the systematic misuse of multibillion worth of lawmakers’ funds. (READ: P6-B PDAF misused; 192 solons tagged)
President Benigno Aquino III earlier placed the country under a state of national calamity as authorities expect the death toll and the damage from Yolanda to rise when communication lines are restored in affected areas. – Rappler.com
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