MANILA, Philippines – Will senators take an individual or collective stand on the abolition of the pork barrel?
Senate President Franklin Drilon said this is one of the key issues the Senate will discuss in a caucus postponed to Wednesday, October 16.
In an interview on Mornings@ANC on Tuesday, Drilon said that while 17 senators including himself have said that they are in favor of totally scrapping the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF), the Senate must discuss how to go about it.
He said each of the 17 senators can manifest to delete the P200 million allotted for him or her or all 24 senators can decide as a body to scrap their PDAF, reducing the budget by P4.8 billion.
“Do we do it individually? Do we stand up and say delete my PDAF? Or the other option is do we do it as a collective judgment. Again that’s a sensitive and crucial issue,” Drilon said.
The public has called for the abolition of the PDAF following the pork barrel scam, where lawmakers allegedly channeled the fund to fake non-governmental organizations in exchange for kickbacks.
The House of Representatives realigned P25.4 billion in PDAF to 6 executive departments in the 2014 budget, with lawmakers still allowed to recommend projects. Critics said this is still pork by another name.
Drilon said the sensitivity of the issue was part of the reason he decided to postpone the caucus initially set for Monday even if only 5 senators were absent. Besides the PDAF, also on the agenda is whether or not to summon alleged pork barrel scam mastermind Janet Napoles to the Senate blue ribbon committee probe.
Senators Ralph Recto and Miriam Defensor Santiago were on sick leave while Senators Bam Aquino, Bongbong Marcos and Lito Lapid were on official business on Monday.
“I thought a 48-hour postponement, because today is a holiday, will not do any harm. It will allow the full participation of all the senators in the agenda of the caucus which is very important. We want to have a consensus on how to dispose of the PDAF issue …. Two, we want to discuss the timetable of the [Freedom of Information] bill and the subpoena so we wanted a full Senate,” Drilon said.
‘I will sign subpoena if that’s collective judgment’
Drilon has drawn flak for refusing to sign the subpoena for Napoles, and even asking and heeding the Ombudsman’s advice on the issue. (READ: Should Senate summon Napoles?)
A report of the Manila Standard on Monday quoted whistleblower Sandra Cam as saying Drilon knew Napoles since 2005, and she was his “biggest financier.” She said this was the reason Drilon was supposedly blocking Napoles’ testimony. Drilon was not asked about the report in the ANC interview but the ruling Liberal Party (LP) has denied Cam’s claims.
In the ANC interview, Drilon said he will abide by the decision senators reach in caucus.
“If the collective judgment of all senators [is to sign the subpoena] then I will sign it. No more questions, no problem with me,” Drilon said.
The Senate President reiterated that he only acted out of “prudence and caution” in heeding the Ombudsman’s advice not to call Napoles at this time. Sen Teofisto “TG” Guingona III, Santiago and legal experts though said it was wrong for Drilon to ask her opinion in the first place, and it undermined the authority of the Senate.
“Let me emphasize that what is important here is we will be able to dispense justice properly: That the guilty will be convicted, the innocent will be acquitted. That’s the end-all, be-all,” Drilon said.
“The case is before the Ombudsman. Certainly as a former Secretary of Justice, I don’t want to prejudice the Ombudsman’s work, which is basically to dispense justice.”
‘You can’t abolish DAP’
Drilon also rebuffed calls for the abolition of the Aquino administration’s Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP), now the subject of cases before the Supreme Court. He reiterated his defense of the legality of DAP, saying the President has the power to realign savings.
“You have to have that flexibility. It’s in the Constitution. It’s a power reserved for contingencies for heads of agencies, the President, the Chief Justice, the head of constitutional commissions. You cannot say abolish DAP because it is a program that is necessary to accelerate disbursement.”
Drilon again said the issue was whether or not the funds disbursed from DAP were used properly.
“I am asking COA (Commission on Audit) to audit all these DAP funds so that it’s clear if it was not properly used, find the appropriate uses …. I have no problem with that.”
Drilon also denied that the impeachment trial of former Chief Justice Renato Corona was the reason he asked senators to submit projects to be funded by DAP in November 2011. He said that was before Corona’s impeachment started in the House in December 2011.
“Again, I go back, what crime did we commit? Isn’t the issue the use of these funds requested for the implementation of the project? We did not get these funds. Senators nominated projects in lieu of public spending falling behind.”
He added, “The issue of corruption should be addressed. The issue of corruption was lost in the translation.”
The DAP became the subject of controversy after Sen Jinggoy Estrada said in a privilege speech on September 25 that senators who voted to convict Corona got P50 million each after the impeachment trial.
Budget Secretary Florencio Abad later admitted that most senators got P50 million each in 2012 but said the money came from the DAP. Legal experts though said the DAP is unconstitutional and undermined Congress’ power of the purse.
Drilon said he was disappointed that the issue is being diverted to the legality of DAP.
“But 2016 is in the horizon so kasama na lahat iyan.” (That’s all part of it). – Rappler.com