Solons on new ‘pork’ scheme: Not good enough

Some applaud President Aquino's move to overhaul the pork barrel system, but others would not settle for anything less than full abolition

MANILA, Philippines – Some members of the House of Representatives applauded President Benigno Aquino III’s announcement that the pork barrel system will be overhauled. Others would not settle for anything less than the special fund’s complete abolition. 

Yet others are calling that the President’s own discretionary fund be abolished as well.

Members of the leftist Makabayan bloc, the first group in the House to file a bill seeking to abolish the pork barrel, criticized Aquino’s proposed reforms as nothing but a re-dressed version of the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF). 

“We have yet to see the details of the President’s proposal, but based on his statements to the media, it could be the case of the same dog with a different collar, meaning a reformed PDAF with a different name,” ACT Teachers Rep Antonio Tinio said. 

READ: Overhauled ‘pork’ to replace PDAF

FULL TEXT: Aquino’s statement on the ‘abolition’ of PDAF

Bayan Muna Rep Neri Colmenares said the new scheme is reminiscent of how the Countrywide Development Fund was renamed PDAF during the time of the current President’s mother, President Corazon Aquino. 

Colmenares also raised suspicions over the timing of the announcement, which comes 3 days before a number of an anti-pork barrel protest. 

“President Aquino hopes that by changing its name as itemized pork, people will be mislead into thinking that there is no need for the August 26 rally,” he said. 

‘New reforms to increase transparency’

Other members, meanwhile, expressed their support for the move. 

Davao Rep Isidro Ungab, head of the appropriations committee in the House, said the new mechanism must be marked with “transparency in all government transactions.” 

“We are one with President Aquino in the aim to safeguard the nation’s coffers and to be able to execute programs and projects that would be directly received by the people,” Ungab said in a text message. 

Ungab was tagged as one of the lawmakers who allegedly allocated funds to the Kaupdanan para sa Mangunguma Foundation Inc, one of the supposed nongovernmental organizations operated by “pork barrel queen” Janet Lim-Napoles. 

The reforms that Aquino will introduce in the new pork barrel scheme include: 

  • There will be a limited menu of projects.
  • Projects will be included as line items in the national budget.
  • 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.

Other solons commended the proposal to include lawmakers’ funds as line items in the budget. 

“I support line item budgeting because it is more transparent and accountable,” Marikina Rep and Liberal party spokesperson Miro Quimbo said on Twitter. 

Navotas Rep and United Nationalist Alliance secretary general Toby Tiangco agreed. 

“Agree with PNoy that line item budgeting will be a more transparent way to service the needs of our constituents!” Tiangco tweeted. 

With the reforms, each lawmaker will now have to break down what he intends to do with the PDAF. 

In an interview after Aquino’s announcement, Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr appealed to his colleagues to do their consultations soon.

Nanawagan ako sa mga congressman. Ngayon palang ilista na ninyo, manghingi na kayo ng mga suggestions from your barangay captain and mayors. Gumawa na kayo ng listahan ng mga projects na gusto ninyong gawin,” Belmonte said.

(I’m calling on congressmen. This early, list down [your preferred projects], get suggestions from your barangay captains and mayors.)

“Even if we have to meet more than the usual number of days, we will do it to make sure the system is in place before the end of the year,” Belmonte said in a mix of English and Filipino.

Pork barrel useful for provinces 

Some lawmakers also said the fund also has its merits, especially in the provinces. 

Dinagat Rep Kaka Bag-ao said solving fund misuse is “a comprehensive issue that cannot be solved by the abolition of the pork barrel alone.”

“The path that we must tread in order to move forward is the reform of the budget system in a way that will guarantee the equitable distribution of resources, especially for the poorest provinces,” Bag-ao said. “No one must be left behind.”

Ifugao Rep Teddy Brawner Baguilat Jr said Aquino’s statements were “bold” but his support for the move would depend on how the changes would be implemented. 

Aside from reforming the system in the short run, such as phasing out the use of pork barrel for hard infrastructure, the government must shift allocations toward internal revenue allotments for local government units in the long run, he said.

“We should also start educating our voters that our job as legislators are passing laws and monitoring the budgets,” Baguilat said. “So we can win without the largess and political mileage PDAF gives.” 

Bag-ao sees the pork barrel overhaul as an avenue to push for a greater reform in the system of govenrment itself. 

“In time, we must consider shifting to a parliamentary form of governance where the Executive and Legislative are one in implementing programs for the people that go hand in hand with crafting laws that will uplift the marginalized,” Bag-ao said. 

What about presidential pork?

Aside from sustaining their call to abolish pork, leftist solons also asked why Aquino was silent on his so-called “presidential pork.” 

READ: ‘Queen bee’ funds worse than pork, group says

Kabataan Rep Terry Ridon tweeted: “The President refuses to abolish own lump sum appropriations, which are far greater than the legislative pork barrel.”  

Bayan Muna Rep Carlos Zarate said that without the abolition of the “fatter and bigger presidential pork barrel,” the overhaul of PDAF is “useless, holllow and empty.” 

However, the people must continue their vigilance and be watchful as PDAF may metamorphosed into another form, another  chunk of pork, since the entire pork barrel system  substantially remains, without the presidential pork being smashed at all,” Rep. Zarate said. 

Colmenares called on the August 26 rallies to push through despite the developments. –