Miriam to Congress: Phase out pork by 2016

Sen Miriam Defensor Santiago files a resolution to lesson pork barrel of lawmakers starting 2014 until there's zero left by 2016

'NOT CONTRACTORS.' Sen Miriam Defensor Santiago calls for the gradual abolition of the pork barrel by 2016, saying it's the second best option to immediately abolishing the PDAF. File photo from Santiago's Facebook page

MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – “We are legislators, not public works contractors.”

With this declaration, Sen Miriam Defensor Santiago called on Congress to phase out the pork barrel or the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) of lawmakers by 2016.

Santiago filed a resolution on Wednesday, July 31, urging the Senate to gradually phase out the PDAF as “the second best solution” to abuse, next to immediately abolishing the pork barrel.

Every year, senators receive P200 million each in PDAF, while members of the House of Representatives get P70 million each.

The senator wants Congress to phase out PDAF as follows:

  • For senators: From P200 million to P100 million in 2014; P50 million in 2015; and zero in 2016
  • For congressmen: From P70 million to P35 million in 2014; P15 million in 2015; and zero in 2016

In filing her resolution, Santiago echoed an opinion that bishops and political observers have voiced out following the multi-billion pork barrel scam involving several senators and congressmen.

“Senators and congressmen are expected to pass laws and exercise oversight functions over the Executive Department’s implementation of existing laws. We are not expected to build roads, bridges, and other infrastructure projects,” Santiago said in a statement Wednesday.

Santiago said the “best solution” is to abolish the pork barrel by reducing it to zero in the 2014 budget, but phasing it out is more acceptable to members of Congress.

The senator filed her resolution weeks after the Philippine Daily Inquirer reported about a scheme where some lawmakers allow their pork barrel to be used for ghost projects of bogus NGOs in exchange for commissions.

READ: Admin solons linked to pork barrel scam

Almost half of PDAF goes to favored NGOs

Collusion? Solons pick NGOs that get PDAF

Santiago said appropriations for PDAF must be deleted in the budget, and the President should not resurrect it through line item veto. The PDAF is included in the national budget.

“It is important that the full amount be reduced if the legislators are serious is abolishing the pork barrel. Reducing the PDAF appropriations to even one peso is dangerous, because then the President may choose to augment the peso appropriations with several billions which is allowed under the Constitution,” said the constitutional law expert.

Santiago is the chairperson of the Senate committee on constitutional amendments, revision of codes and laws.

In an interview on Wednesday, Senate President Franklin Drilon and Senate Majority Leader Alan Peter Cayetano said they support Santiago’s proposal. 

“From the very start, I said I agree with abolishing PDAF. The proposal of Miriam appears to be feasible. Yes, we support it,” Drilon said. 

Asked about the legitimate use of pork barrel, Drilon said, “Yes that’s why I said we should just limit the use of the pork to government hospitals to help the poor and not include livelihood because that’s where anomaly occurs.”

Cayetano is also supportive of any measure that he said will reduce graft and corruption.

“Whether it’s to abolish it, whether it’s a line item budget, whether we have another system, I support. Another system is to transfer the bidding of projects in Congress itself. Let’s see if any lawmaker will sign papers knowing any anomaly can be traced directly to him or her.” 

As for Sen Antonio Trillanes IV, he said he will go with what the majority decides on. 

“Whether wala o meron, ang importante dito wag mong ibulsa.” (Whether we abolish it or not, what’s important is you don’t pocket the money.) 

‘Pork should not go to NGOs’

Before Santiago filed her proposal, several lawmakers already expressed opposition to the abolition of the pork barrel.

Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr said members of the House of Representatives need the pork barrel to provide projects for their constituents, especially those in poor districts.

Santiago said she already knows lawmakers will oppose her proposal.

“Many voters, rightly or wrongly, expect their congressman to ‘bring home the bacon’ to the district, in the form of capital projects. Each congressman could do this by availing of the pork barrel,” Santiago said.

Yet she was adamant.

“We are legislators, not public works contractors. People look up to us to make serious laws that could change the lives of a great number of people or could change the way society is run or managed.”

Santiago also proposed the following to tighten the use of the PDAF until its abolition:  

  • “The fund should be used strictly for ‘hard’ projects (infrastructure) and releases should be limited to national government agencies.”
  • “Local government units should not be eligible recipients of the fund. Releases to LGUs have been abused in the past, especially when the local chief executives (governors, city mayors, and municipal mayors) are relatives of legislators.”
  • “PDAF should not be released to government-owned or –controlled corporations, which may later on be released to NGOs, fictitious or quasi-NGOs, or NGOs headed by the relatives of politicians.”
  • “No public funds should be released to NGOs. This strict rule should be non-negotiable. In keeping with the spirit of volunteerism, NGOs are supposed to give aid to society, using funds they raised on their own, not public funds.”
  • “Scholarships should not be allowed; they are the responsibility of the more than 125 state universities and colleges.”

‘Cure worse than disease’

Santiago also objected to the plan of the government to designate the Department of Social Welfare and Development to screen the NGOs that will be recipients of the pork barrel.

In a previous interview with Rappler, Budget Secretary Butch Abad said the DSWD is in the best place to vet the NGOs.

“We’re suggesting an agency like the DSWD be tasked to do that because, among all the other agencies, it’s the agency that really does a lot of interaction with NGOs,” he said.

For Santiago though, the proposal only politicizes the DSWD.

“This gives the DSWD the right to choose ‘friendly’ NGOs and reject ‘unfriendly’ NGOs. This proposed special provision constitutes undue delegation of the congressional power of the purse to an unelected Department Secretary.”  

She added, “This is a cure worse than the disease.” – Rappler.com