Session break? House to vet lawmakers’ pork proposals
Congressmen submit on September 27 their proposed infrastructure projects. A committee will decide during the two-week break which of them get into the DPWH budget.

MANILA, Philippines – Congress will be on a two-week break starting Saturday, September 28. But it will be a period of anticipation as well for how much pork-by-another-name will be credited to them in the 2014 budget.

House of Representatives appropriations committee chair Isidro Ungab told reporters on Friday that congressmen were told to submit by Friday evening their list of preferred infrastructure projects to be implemented by the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH). 

Just before the chamber approved House Bill 2630 – the proposed 2014 national budget – at past 2 am Saturday, Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr announced that amendments, including proposed infrastructure projects, would be accepted until October 1.

Last Tuesday, Belmonte Jr announced the compromise that congressmen had with the DPWH, allowing each of them to propose a maximum of P24.5 million worth of infrastructure projects under the agency’s 2014 budget.

It lowers their old P40-million allocation for “hard projects” from the now “abolished” Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF).

READ: New pork rule: P24.5M maximum infra per solon

‘Small,’ powerful committee

“We expect everybody to give because everybody wants to nominate good projects for their constituents and sectors,” Ungab said, as the House was set to work overnight on Friday to approve on second reading the proposed P2.268 trillion national budget for 2014.

The 7-member Makabayan bloc, which has called for the abolition of any form of pork barrel, said it will not propose infrastructure projects. They are the party-list groups Gabriela, Anakpawis, Bayan Muna, Kabataan, and ACT Teachers. 

The House approved it on second reading Saturday morning after a 17-hour deliberation.

Earlier, Ungab said that during the break – from September 28 to October 13 – a “small committee” will discuss the amendments to the budget as approved on 2nd reading before they adjourned.  

The committee will decide which of the congressmen’s proposed local infrastructure projects will be itemized in an annex to the DPWH budget.

“So before we [re-convene] to pass [the budget] on 3rd reading, the amendments shall have been completed,” Ungab said in a mix of English and Filipino.

At the end of the marathon deliberations, Majority Floor Leader Neptali Gonzales proposed that the following be named members of that committee: himself, Ungab, appropriations committee vice chair JC Rahman Nava, Camarines Sur Rolando Andaya Jr (a former House appropriations committee chair and later budget secretary during the Arroyo administration), and Minority Leader Ronaldo Zamora.

Guidelines for proposals

Each congressman can propose up to 5 projects that include the construction and rehabilitation of local roads, bridges, footbridges, classrooms or academic buildings, multi-purpose buildings, and level 2 and 3 water supply systems or “salintubig” programs. 

The infrastructure projects have to be within the district congressmen’s respective areas. This is to avoid a repeat of the anomalies discovered by government auditors – district congressmen’s PDAF “spent” by fake NGOs on ghost projects in other provinces.

President Benigno Aquino III ordered the PDAF replaced with another pork barrel system 3 days before social media-fueled rallies were staged nationwide in August to call for the abolition of the much abused discretionary funds of lawmakers.

Government investigators had found the PDAF channelled over the years to fake non-governmental organizations allegedly endorsed by senators and congressmen in exchange for fat commissions.

“We will do our best to approve it tonight,” Ungab said Friday, referring to the budget. “As for re-alignments, I don’t think there will be re-alignments because most of the budget is already itemized. The PDAF was scrapped and it was re-aligned into items in social services.”

Before the President announced the PDAF’s abolition, it was already included in the proposed budget, totalling P25.4 billion. Congressmen agreed to realign the amount to 6 line agencies – the biggest chunk (35% or P8.82 billion) going to DPWH.

READ: Scholars, patients? DepEd, DOH get least of realigned PDAF

The other agencies receiving realigned PDAF are the:

  • Department of Social Welfare and Development (20% or P5.04 billion)
  • Department of Labor and Employment (15% or P3.78 billion)
  • Department of Health (15% or P3.78 billion)
  • Commission on Higher Education (10% or P2.52 billion)
  • Department of Education (5% or P1.26 billion)

In the old PDAF system, each congressman used to receive P70 million in discretionary funds every year. It was allocated thus: P40 million for “hard projects” or infrastructure, and P30 million for “soft projects” like scholarships and healthcare. – 

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