MANILA, Philippines – Preferring to be “on the prudent side,” Malacañang will not act on a Senate resolution “urging” the Executive to “realign” as calamity fund senators’ pork barrel that has been temporarily withheld by the Supreme Court.
“At the moment the legal situation is not that clear,” so the Palace will wait for the High Court to lift the temporary restraining order (TRO), Budget Secretary Florencio Abad told Senate reporters on Wednesday, October 23.
Senate President Franklin Drilon initiated Resolution 302 on the premise that since the Supreme Court had issued a temporary restraining order (TRO) on the remaining Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) for 2013, these impounded funds can be considered as “savings” under the budget law.
Being savings, the more or less P3.8 billion in senators’ PDAF could now be placed under the President’s constitutional power to realign – and thus be used to aid victims of recent calamities, Drilon said. (READ: Getting around TRO? Drilon files reso realigning PDAF)
Senators uninamously approved it on Tuesday, but the House of Representatives, through Speaker Feliciano Jr, quickly pointed out it could not be done.
The Supreme Court is hearing a consolidated case questioning the constitutionality of the PDAF in its present form.
‘Government is fairly capable’
“It’s under a TRO by the Supreme Court…. Right now our hands are tied…. It’s a legal question so we better be on the prudent side and leave that decision to the Supreme Court,” Abad said after the Senate hearing on the proposed 2014 budget of the his department.
“It’s not really a big problem for us because right now we can amply respond to the requirements of the relief and rehabilitation in Bohol,” the budget secretary said.
Duringthe budget hearing, Abad gave assurances that government “is fairly capable enough” to fund relief and rehabilitation efforts in areas that are recovering from disasters – Bohol and Cebu from the 7.2-magnitude earthquake, northern Luzon provinces from Typhoon Santi, Zamboanga City from the siege by Muslim rebels, and Compostela Valley and Davao Oriental from Typhoon Pablo.
“We’ve had good performance from BIR (Bureau of Internal Revenue). We had a surplus in August, and they’ve had very good collections in September, so I think cash-wise the government is in a [good] position,” he said.
Abad said the President’s calamity fund and contingency fund for this year are nearly wiped out, but since rehabilitation efforts are expected to be carried over to 2014, both funds “would have been fully replenished” by then. (READ: Calamity fund running dry; Aquino to tap savings)
Abad said the rehabilitation requirements after Typhoon Pablo and the Zamboanga siege alone had wiped out the calamity fund. Damage from Pablo in Compostela Valley and Davao Oriental was at P11 billion, while the initial estimate for the Zamboanga siege damage was at P3.89 billion.
“On just those two events alone, our P7.5-billion calamity fund and our P1-billion contingency fund have already been wiped out and we’re not even done yet, because there are the Bohol and Cebu damage that we have to contend with,” he said during the budget hearing.
Special fund for Bohol proposed
Meanwhile, bills were filed at both chambers of Congress seeking to establish a special fund for the rehabilitation of Bohol.
Senate Minority Leader Juan Ponce Enrile filed Sente Bill 1872, seeking to create the Central Visayas Assistance, Resettlement and Development Commission. The body will manage P10 billion in rehabilitation fund for the region.
At the House of Representatives, Bohol congressmen Arthur Yap, Erico Aumentado, and Rene Relampagos filed House Bill 3229 or the Bakod (Rise Up) Central Visayas Act of 2013.
It seeks to create the Bohol Earthquake Aid and Rehabilitation Commission, which will be given P15 billion for emergency rescue and relief humanitarian efforts, including grant of immediate medical assistance, food sustenance, and emergency shelter.
The proposed body will be under the Office of the President.
The Bohol congressmen came up with the P15-billion estimate based on what was given the Mount Pinatubo Commission in 1991.
“The amount requested, at P15 billion, is not even a third of the total appropriation made [for Pinatubo Commission]. This was although the devastation wrought by the [Bohol] earthquake approximates the damage of Mt. Pinatubo,” they said. – Rappler.com
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