MANILA, Philippines (2nd UPDATE) – “Panahon na po para i-abolish ang PDAF.”
President Aquino made this statement on Friday, August 23, in a speech aired live nationwide from Malacañang, weeks after the systematic siphoning of lawmakers’ pork barrel by dubious NGOs was exposed in media reports and later confirmed in a special government audit.
But, really, what he was saying: an overhauled pork barrel system – supposedly designed to be more transparent – will only replace the now much-maligned PDAF.
“Sisiguruhin kong bawat mamamayan at sektor ay makakakuha ng patas na bahagi ng pambansang budget para sa serbisyong pangkalusugan, scholarship, proyektong lumilikha ng kabuhayan, at lokal na imprastruktura,” the President said, before enumerating budgetary reforms.
Days ago, the President stood firm on keeping the Priority Assistance Development Fund (PDAF) of senators and lawmakers.
The announcement for pork barrel “reforms” came 3 days before the anti-pork barrel rallies planned by various sectors in Metro Manila and key cities across the country. The rallies would be the first major demonstration during this administration that has been anchored on an anti-corruption slogan.
Before this, some sectors had already called for an official audit of the PDAF that would include years under the Aquino administration, as the special state audit recently publicized covered only the last 3 years of the previous administration.
Suggestions have been made about checking how the President has utilized his own discretionary fund, which is far bigger than the lawmakers’ pork barrel, as well as how Aquino utilized his own pork barrel when he was congressman and senator for 12 years.
The President made the announcement in the presence of the leaders of both chambers of Congress – Senate President Franklin Drilon and House Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr, who both earlier dismissed calls for a congressional probe into the scam.
The President ordered the creation of an Inter-Agency, Anti-Graft Coordinating Council (IAAGCC), which will investigate alleged misuse of pork barrel.
The council will focus on speeding up the investigation and prosecution of cases of alleged pork barrel misuse, and the President called on all government officials to give their full cooperation to the council.
Aquino said the pork barrel system will undergo a major overhaul, which he said will prevent public funds from going toward shady, questionable transactions.
He said there will be a limited menu that will be allowed government funding, and project details will be required before funds are released.
Aquino said budget insertions will be stopped, and instead lawmakers should propose the projects upfront and should be approved. These projects, he said, will be included as line items in the budget.
Other measures that the government will undertake, according to Aquino, are:
- Consumable soft projects – such as medicines, fertilizers, and training materials, to name a few – will not be approved unless it will be proven that people will benefit.
- Quick infrastructure projects, such as dredging and asphalt overlays, are out.
- Non-governmental organizations and select government-owned and -controlled corporations (GOCCs) will no longer be allowed to be used as fund channels.
- Lawmakers can only fund projects for their district or sector.
- Government bidding processes and budgets will be publicized.
“Hihimayin ang bawat linya, bawat piso, bawat proyekto, gaya ng lahat ng iba pang mga programa ng inyong pamahalaan,” he said.
Aside from overhauling the pork barrel system, Aquino also vowed to prosecute those found guilty of misusing their funds.
He said the government will first, “exact accountability from those who have abused the system” and second, “find a better way to ensure that the public coffers will be spent with only the public’s benefit in mind.”
On Tuesday, Aquino said he has ordered the Inter-Agency Anti-Graft Coordinating Council or IAAGCC to probe the PDAF scam.
Leaders of both chambers of Congress – Senate President Franklin Drilon and House Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr. – stood beside Aquino when he delivered his statement.
– KD Suarez/Rappler.com