Senate to give P6M for quake victims

Ayee Macaraig

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Only aid for quake victims, not Napoles and PDAF abolition, was discussed in the Senate caucus

NO NAPOLES. Senators did not discuss the subpoena for Janet Napoles in the caucus, instead deciding to give P6 million for quake victims. Photo by Joseph Vidal/Senate PRIB

MANILA, Philippines – The Senate will give P6 million from its savings to victims of the earthquake that devastated Central Visayas.

Senate President Franklin Drilon made the announcement after the senators held a caucus on Wednesday, October 16. The Senate will course the funds through the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD).

“We had an initial review of our finances. We believe we can have savings at this time of P6 million, which we will now transfer to the DSWD to assist in the relief operations. Next week, we will again review what other steps we can take in order to assist the rehabilitation of the affected areas,” Drilon told reporters.

Drilon said it is up to the DSWD to decide how to spend the money for victims of the quake, Typhoon Santi that struck Central Luzon last week, and the Zamboanga crisis.

The quake that struck on Tuesday left over 100 dead, and destroyed buildings, iconic churches and heritage sites.

Senator Grace Poe also filed a resolution calling for the creation of a P10 billion special fund for reconstruction and rehabilitation efforts in provinces affected by the quake. Bohol and Cebu were the worst-hit provinces, and declared a state of calamity.

Poe said the P10 billion will be sourced from the “scrapped Priority Development Assistance Fund” (PDAF) of the lawmakers.

Drilon though said that the issue of scrapping the PDAF was not discussed in the caucus, contrary to his earlier pronouncement that it was part of the agenda.

The Senate has yet to decide whether or not to delete the PDAF as a body or to let individual senators remove their P200 million appropriation. The pork barrel scam triggered widespread calls for the abolition of the PDAF.

The House of Representatives decided to realign P25.4 billion in pork barrel funds to 6 line agencies but lawmakers can still recommend projects. Critics said this was merely “pork by another name.”

In the pork barrel scam, lawmakers allegedly siphoned off their PDAF to fake non-governmental organizations in exchange for hefty kickbacks as big as 50% of ghost projects.

No comment on Cam, Napoles not discussed

In the interview, Drilon said the subpoena for alleged pork barrel scam mastermind Janet Napoles was no longer discussed. Before the caucus, Drilon announced he is signing the subpoena even if the matter was supposed to be discussed in the meeting.

He said it will be up to the blue ribbon committee to iron out details on Napoles’ testimony.

Drilon was also asked about whistleblower Sandra Cam, who said he knew Napoles since 2005. Cam said Napoles was Drilon’s “biggest financier” and this was the “primary reason” he initially blocked efforts to have her summoned.

“I will not talk about Sandra Cam,” was Drilon’s curt reply.

Drilon has yet to address the issue but his ruling Liberal Party took the cudgels for him, denying Cam’s claims and asking the media to ignore her.

FOI debate in December, January

The Senate leader also discussed debates on the Freedom of Information (FOI) bill, which was also on the agenda in the caucus.

Drilon said it would not be possible to wrap up debates on the bill, with only 3 session days left before session adjourns next week. When session resumes in November, the Senate will already begin tackling the 2014 budget. 

“We can resume deliberations before the adjournment in December if we still have time. If the budget is with the bicameral conference committee or we can have a full debate in January of next year. I would predict by the end of first quarter of 2014, we should be able to approve the FOI on 3rd reading and refer it to the House,” Drilon said.

The FOI bill seeks to set up a system for citizens to have access to public information and records. The measure has traditionally passed swiftly in the Senate, which unanimously supports the bill.

It is in the House where the bill has met opposition. Calls for the passage of the decade-old measure heightened following the pork barrel scam. The bill is seen as a transparency and anti-corruption tool. – 

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