No resolution – yet – pushing for PDAF abolition
MANILA, Philippines – The minority bloc in the House of Representative had reason to call it a "ghost resolution" – indeed, it doesn't exist.
The supposed resolution to abolish the P25.2-billion pork barrel from the 2014 budget that House leaders initially said was being circulated for congressmen's signature was not a resolution after all.
It is only a "statement of support" for the abolition of the controversial funds, Speaker Feliciano "Sonny" Belmonte Jr finally said on Wednesday, September 4.
It was the first time Belmonte spoke after the Monday caucus of House leaders, where they agreed to scrap the P25.2-billion Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) of senators and congressmen but didn't give details on where the lump sum would go.
Belmonte told reporters Wednesday that leaders of each political party in the House are still consulting their members on what they want to do with the PDAF. The Speaker hopes to finish consultations by next week.
At present, the amount is still included in the proposed 2014 General Appropriations Act. Once the majority musters the support needed, Belmonte said, the "statement of support" could eventually become a letter or a resolution that will be submitted to the committee on appropriations, which is still in process of conducting hearings on the 2014 budget.
The committee will then remove the P25.2-billion lump sum allocation for the PDAF and realign it to national government agencies, which will still be identified.
Belmonte said those who attended the Monday meeting included:
- Majority Leader Neptali Gonzales II
- Deputy Speakers Carlos Padilla, Sergio Apostol, Pangalian Balindong, Robbie Puno, Giorgidi Aggabao, and Dina Abad
- Party leaders Elpidio Barzaga (National Unity Party), Mel Senen Sarmeinto (Liberal Party), Eleandro Jesus Madrona (Nacionalista Party), Enrique Cojuangco and Mark Mendoza (Nationalist People's Coalition), Abby Binay (United Nationalist Alliance), and party-list representatives Nicanor Briones (Agap) and Raymond Mendoza (TUCP)
They all signed the statement, which read:
"We, the members of the House of Representatives of the 16th Congress support President Aquino's efforts to promote transparency and accountabillity as we join the call for the abolition of the PDAF.
In view of this, we ask the Committee on Appropriation to remove the P25.2 billion provision on PDAF in the 2014 budget.
As representatives of respective constituencies with a mandate to voice out the needs of the people, legitimate needs for social services have to be addressed by social agencies."
Earlier, House committee on appropriations chair Isidro Ungab confirmed the House intends to remove the P25.2 billion lump sum allocation for PDAF from the proposed 2014 budget.
At that time, House leaders admitted it was not clear where the P25.2 billion amount would go.
In a press conference Wednesday morning, September 4, the House minority bloc said they wanted to know whether the funds would be deducted or realigned.
"The 25.2 billion amount is something, as many of us have said, that should be removed. But we'd also like to know where that would be allocated because it's easy to remove, deduct, and wake up and that amount has been dispersed and hidden among agencies," House Minority Leader Ronaldo Zamora said.
"We want to know where the money will be going. Will we see a net reduction of P25.2 billion?" Zamora added.
With the exception of Zamora, members of the House minority also said they have not seen what was then thought of as a resolution. ACT Teachers Rep Antonio Tinio even called it a "ghost resolution."
Where will the money go?
Belmonte said Wednesday the House leadership wants to re-align the amount to different national government agencies.
"I think some of it, especially [for scholarships and medical assistance we will give that to appropriate departments, if we hav any request like any other person," Belmonte said.
"Removing the lump sum tells you it's not yours. We reserve the right to make recommendations to agencies," Belmonte added.
As indicated in the third paragraph of the statement, solons want national government agencies to continue projects in their respective districts that can not be easily stopped, such as scholarships and health care.
How such amount will be realigned, as well as how lawmakers and their constituents will gain access to such funds and services, is still up for discussion.
One of the President's proposed reforms for lawmakers' funds was to include lawmakers' intended projects as line items in the budgets.
But Eastern Samar Rep Ben Evardone earlier said there was not enough time to do this in time for 2014.
Because of this, line items for district projects in the PDAF is not an option for the appropriations act for now. The House leadership wants to pass the 2014 budget on time to avoid re-enacting the previous year's budget, which still includes allocations for PDAF, Evardone said.
Public clamor to abolish the PDAF increased following exposés revealing the multi-million pork barrel scam allegedly involving senators and congressmen.
A special Commission on Audit report on PDAF found at least 192 lawmakers' PDAF amounting to P6.1 billion was released to and misused by bogus nongovernmental organizations. – Rappler.com