Abad: Pork barrel abolition ultimately up to Congress

Angela Casauay

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The budget chief says vetting of NGOs that receive PDAF is the responsibility of lawmakers too

HEARING. BSP Gov Armando Tetangco, NEDA chief Arsenio Balisacan, Budget Secretary Butch Abad and Finance Secretary Cesar Purisima answer questions from legislators. Photo by Rappler

MANILA, Philippines – The decision, really, is with Congress, which decides how the pork barrel is allocated.

This was how Budget Sec Florencio Abad ended the discussion on the controversial Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) during the first day of deliberations on proposed 2014 budget at the House of Representatives on Wednesday, August 7.

The PDAFs of senators and congressmen – which will total P27 billion in next year’s budget – have been in the spotlight again after a whistleblower as well as state audit reports showed that some of these had been channeled to dubious NGOs for ghost projects.

The whistleblower, self-confessed bagman Benhur Luy, said some of the NGOs were operated by Janet Lim-Napoles, who started making money in government through the conversion of military funds:

READ: How Janet Napoles got away

ACT Teachers Rep Antonio Tinio, who belongs to a progressive bloc that has vowed not to avail themselves of the PDAF next year, asked Abad to submit a position paper on why Malacañang feels the PDAF should be retained. 

But Abad declined. He said the executive branch’s decision to include the PDAF in the 2014 General Appropriations Act is enough of a statement on its stand regarding the issue.

That was when the budget chief, himself a former congressman, posed the challenge to the lawmakers: “Ultimately, the decision whether or not to abolish or continue the PDAF rests on you, the House of Representatives. So I think it is better for us to await for the wisdom of this chamber.” 

Most House members are not in favor of phasing out the allocation. Speaker Feliciano “Sonny” Belmonte Jr would rather reform the system by requiring representatives to spend their PDAFs only in their own districts for easier auditing. 

Despite public outcry, the executive branch still included pork barrel allocations in the budget. Abad argued such allocations were included way before revelations of alleged PDAF abuses.

Who should screen NGOs?

If the abolition of pork barrel depends on legislators themselves, Tinio asked: Who should be in charge of screening whether the NGOs or projects to [which] such funds are granted are legitimate or not? 

Abad admitted it is not only lawmakers who are to blame for the controvery. 

“It’s the concern of the implementing agency since the legislators only choose their projects.” Abad said. “But of course, the legislators should also be concerned. They can’t just grant projects to NGOs they don’t know about.” 

Abad reiterated earlier pronouncements that President Benigno Aquino III is not keen on abolishing the controversial scheme. 

“I do not know if the President has been accurately quoted on this, but my understanding from the President is he feels that greater majority of legislators who are using their PDAF prudently and well should not be punished for the possible infractions committed by some, although of course that is now subject to investigation and we defer judgement until the investigations are completed,” Abad said. 

The minority bloc in the House has filed a resolution seeking for the investigation into the pork barrel scam. House members, are however, divided on the matter, with Belmonte earlier echoing Senate President Franklin Drilon’s position that Congress should just wait for the probe being conducted by the National Bureau of Investigation. 

Under the PDAF scheme, each senator gets P200 million worth of funds to be used for projects that can be chosen from a menu provided by the Department of Budget and Management. Representatives, meanwhile, get P70 million each. – Rappler.com

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