MANILA, Philippines – Despite growing calls from various sectors to abolish lawmakers’ pork barrel following evidence of widespread corruption, President Benigno Aquino III stood firm on his stand to keep the Priority Development and Assistance Fund (PDAF). But he said he supports stricter punishment for those who misuse it.
On Monday, August 19, Aquino told reporters on the sidelines of the Pambansang Kongreso sa Wika at Ateneo de Manila, it is the process that needs changing and said that while the pork barrel can be abused, it can also be used for good.
“I think the premise [of people who want it abolished] is that all the ways pork barrel is used are wrong. But if you look at the COA (Commission on Audit) report, I don’t think that’s the case. There are some ways it was wrongly used but those cases, we investigate. There’s a case now against Mrs Napoles, there’s a warrant of arrest against her for something somewhat related to [the pork barrel],” he said.
“Maybe what we should do is that those who misuse the pork barrel should really face more serious punishment,” he added.
Aquino’s statement came following a special COA report that questioned lawmakers’ disbursement of their PDAF and claimed that nongovernment organizations (NGOs) associated with Janet Lim-Napoles received the bulk.
Napoles is accused by whistleblowers of having connived with lawmakers to pocket their pork barrel by channeling them to ghost projects of fake organizations created by Napoles. The COA report supported the testimonies of her former employees turned whistleblowers.
Open to reforms
Aquino admitted there is a need to improve the way funds are disbursed, saying there should be “more restriction, wide safeguards and better monitoring of the implementation” of projects.
“There [are] already huge improvements in safeguards which have lessened the chances pork barrel can be misused, but I think there are more ways we can improve the process so there would be no opportunities to take advantage of them,” he said.
Aquino maintained it should really be the government departments implementing projects rather than the NGOs, and lauded the decrease of listed NGOs under his administration. But he also said it is hard to make any sweeping judgments since some NGOs are honest as well.
“I think it’s difficult to generalize and say the whole system is wrong. What’s just is to scrutinize how it was used. If it’s right, we support it, if it’s wrong then we stop and ensure it won’t happen again.” he said.
He also defended keeping the PDAF, which he said is largely useful in determining the needs of many communities especially outside Metro Manila that the national government does not necessarily notice, and to address problems in districts known only to their respective lawmakers.
Aquino cited having been able to use his pork barrel when he was a congressman to fix the MacArthur Highway which helped those passing through Tarlac.
“If we take it out, that means we rely on the national government to know the needs of every district and to solve these all the time. That’s hard to do,” he said. – Rappler.com