MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – Vice President Jejomar Binay announced that he is foregoing the P200 million social services fund in his own budget, which some lawmakers have described as his pork barrel.
In a statement read by his chief of staff Benjamin Martinez Jr, Binay said he decided to remove the fund even before Congress and the Department of Budget and Management clarified whether or not the amount can be considered pork barrel.
Martinez read the statement during the Senate hearing on the budget of the Office of the Vice President (OVP) on Wednesday, September 11.
Binay’s office has said that while the fund originally came from the unused Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) of then Sen Benigno Aquino III, it was integrated into his office’s locally funded budget in 2012 and 2013.
The removal of the P200 million almost halved the OVP budget. From P417 million, it is now down to P217 million, Martinez said.
“I made the decision even before the authorities determine the nature of the fund in order to avoid speculation and politicking in this issue. I expect that with this decision, we will again convey to the public that we in government are always listening to them and ready to service honestly and with commitment,” Binay said in Filipino.
Binay said he knows that his college scholarship projects and the construction of buildings for senior citizens will be affected by the decision “but I know that our citizens will understand this.”
“I want to convey to everyone that since I started serving as Vice President, our use of funds went through the careful scrutiny of the Commission on Audit or COA. It did not just pass the COA, but we were even praised for our honest and proper use of funds in my office, and the benefits felt by our fellow citizens,” Binay said.
Last month, Binay wrote the Department of Budget and Management seeking clarification on whether or not the social services fund is considered PDAF. Yet Budget Secretary Florencio Abad said the decision is left to Congress.
During the budget hearing of the OVP in the House of Representatives earlier this week, some lawmakers said the P200 million is PDAF because the OVP has the discretion to choose which projects to fund, and serves the same purpose as the pork barrel.
The decision follows public outrage over the multi-billion peso pork barrel scam where lawmakers allegedly allowed their PDAF to be channeled to fake non-government organizations in exchange for kickbacks.
Binay has said he will support the decision of President Benigno Aquino III, who has called for the abolition of the current pork barrel system to replace it with one with more safeguards.
In a previous interview, Binay said it was his ally Senate Minority Leader Juan Ponce Enrile who paved the way for his office to get the P200 million.
“Senator Enrile initiated that my office be given pork barrel, and the money, I used that to build senior citizens’ centers. That’s (pork barrel) P200 million yearly,” he added.
Binay said Enrile made the effort because the budget of the Office of the Vice President was only P187 million, which mostly goes to medical assistance and scholarship programs.
“Akala ko Office of the Vice President, wow! Nung malaman ko P187 million, mas mataas pa ang budget ng barangay ko sa Makati eh,” Binay said in jest.
(I thought, wow this is the Office of the Vice President! When I found out the budget was only P187 million, I thought the budget of my barangay in Makati is bigger.)
During the budget hearing, Senate Finance Committee Chairman Francis Escudero said that the P200 million in social services was an “unusual fund.”
He told reporters that he too considers the fund as PDAF.
“Kasi maliban sa PDAF allocation ng mga senador at congressman, ang P200 million sa OVP, ang nakalagay sa special provision ay susunod ito sa PDAF rules, regulations at menu. Labas sa Kongreso, ito lang ang kaisa-isang provision sa budget na nagsasabing may PDAF pa rin at PDAF talaga ang tawag,” Escudero said.
(Besides the PDAF allocation for senators and congressmen, the P200 million of OVP, what is stated in the special provision is that it should follow PDAF rules, regulations and menu. Outside Congress, it is the only provision in the budget that says PDAF and the label is still PDAF.)
The Senate finance committee quickly approved the OVP’s budget following Martinez’s announcement.
In an interview with reporters, Martinez conceded that the fund was “unusual,” and the Vice President decided to forego this to avoid questions surrounding the money.
“Our belief is this is really not PDAF because it is locally funded. But to remove speculation, we took the cudgels in support of the President’s call to abolish pork. I came from the House hearing last Monday and it was still a big issue. So the Vice President said, ‘Stop it, Benjie. If that will be a problem, let’s give it.’”
He said that the fund was actually included as a line item in past years, with the 100 local government unit beneficiaries specified in the budget, along with the 1,538 scholars.
Martinez said the OVP will be affected by the huge cut in the budget. “Malaking sakripisyo rin sa amin ito pero call ng tao ito eh, call ng Presidente ito eh.” (This is a big sacrifice for us but it’s the call of the people, the call of the President.)
Binay’s chief of staff said the OVP will leave it up to Congress and the President to decide where and how to use the P200 million.
“It’s up to the President. After all, we are not separate. We are part of the executive.”
OVP budget doubled under Binay
Rappler’s research shows however that the budget of the Office of the Vice-President more than doubled during Binay’s time. Bulk of the increases are due to additional discretionary funds.
From P185 million in 2011, the OVP’s budget ballooned to P401.78 million beginning in 2012 with the addition of the P200 million fund that was merely labeled “For the implementation of priority programs and projects.”
Of this amount, half is in the form of capital outlay while the other half goes to maintenance and other operating expenditures.
The OVP also has a budget item for “Ceremonial Functions and Technical Services” which, until 2011, included P6 million in “confidential and intelligence funds.”
The charts below show the growth of the OVP budget and discretionary funds from 2008, under Vice-President Noli De Castro to the current 2013 budget. They also show the proposed budget for 2014.
– with reports from Michael Bueza and Gemma Bagayaua Mendoza/Rappler.com