'Realign 2014 pork to calamity fund'
MANILA, Philippines — This proposal from the House of Representatives tops Senate President Franklin Drilon's – but it's easier said than done.
Realign all of next year's P24.5 billion allocation for the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) — both for senators and House representatives — to fund the economic recovery of Bohol, Zamboanga City, and Central Luzon, Muntinlupa Rep Rodolfo Biazon proposed on Wednesday, October 23.
"What can Congress do? Number one, realign the budget for 2014. My proposal is to realign the PDAF of P24.5 billion in 2014 to this. It's not just Bohol. We will include Zamboanga City and Central Luzon," Biazon said during the hearing.
The Senate unanimously approved on Tuesday, October 22, a resolution realigning the remaining P3.8 billion PDAF of its members — the subject of a Supreme Court TRO — to the calamity fund. (READ: Senate approves reworded reso on PDAF realignment)
Sought for reaction, Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr maintained there no longer is pork barrel in the 2014 budget. "If he's (Biazon) thinking of the line items, he needs to consult the districts involved," Belmonte told Rappler.
The House of Representatives approved on Tuesday the government budget for 2014, where lawmakers itemized as line items the projects to be funded by their annual P70-million allocation. Previously, the P70M was a lumpsum in the budget law and lawmakers were given liberty to allocate them to their projects.
Biazon said he's willing to talk to individual lawmakers. The other route, he said, is through a joint resolution that will realign the fund.
Biazon leads the House panel comprising the congressional oversight committee on the implementation of Republic Act 10121, the 2010 law that created the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC).
Three disasters hit the country one after another. Over 10,000 houses were damaged in Zamboanga City in a 20-day September standoff that killed hundreds of Moro National Liberal Front rebels. This was followed by Typhoon Santi that hit Luzon and then the massive earthquake that hit Bohol.
President Benigno Aquino III earlier admitted the calamity fund is running dry. Nueva Ecija Rep Magnolia Nadres is also complaining that the government is not giving Central Luzon as much attention as it is giving Zambonga City and Bohol. (READ: Santi death toll now 15; damage at P3B)
Biazon said they can also propose a supplemental budget if that is not enough.
"If that is not even sufficient, the next probable legislative reponse is reclassificatin of certain funds. The third [option] is to approve, through a joint resolution of Congress, a supplemental budget. We need to know first how much is needed," Biazon said.
The former Armed Forces Chief of Staff and several representatives met with NDRRMC officials on Wednesday for an informal hearing on the status of rehabilation, recovery, and reconstruction plans for Bohol, Zamboanga City, and Central Luzon. The Senate is yet to select members who will join the oversight committee.
"Congress is interested in the rehabilittion, reconstruction, and recovery efforts, specifically economic recovery of the community because those are going to requires funds. It is Congress that can provide legislative response to provide funds," said Biazon.
Biazon earlier submitted a resolution to abolish the pork barrel and realign the fund to the Department of Education so it can prepare for the K-12 program. But Biazon said the recent calamities are more urgent. — Rappler.com