MANILA, Philippines – “Talagang pakapalan na lang ito.” (This has become a case of shamelessness.)
Senator Antonio Trillanes IV criticized Senator Jinggoy Estrada’s decision to realign P100 million from his Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) to Manila, where his father is mayor.
While Estrada and Senate finance committee chairman Francis Escudero defended the legality of the realignment, Trillanes called it “reckless,” wrong, and a conflict of interest.
Trillanes was reacting to a Philippine Star story revealing that Estrada realigned his P200 million PDAF allocation in 2014 to local government units (LGUs). Estrada gave P100 million to Manila and P50 million each to Caloocan City and the municipality of Lla-lo in Cagayan.
While he conceded that the realignment was legal, Trillanes said it was a conflict of interest and comes after Estrada was implicated in the pork barrel scam. Estrada is facing a plunder complaint for allegedly funneling his PDAF to fake non-governmental organizations in exchange for millions of pesos in kickbacks. (READ: Jinggoy: ‘Pork’ charges ploy vs opposition for 2016)
“Sana dito, si Senator Jinggoy, naging mas circumspect siya. Alam na nga niyang under fire siya, naging reckless pa siya sa pag-allocate. Iyon ang problema doon. Kung wala silang isyu [sa PDAF], ‘di niyo tatanungin eh. Ngayon ngang may issue pa siya, ganyan pa ang gagawin niya. Talagang pakapalan na lang ito,” Trillanes told reporters on Thursday, January 9.
(I hope Senator Jinggoy had been more circumspect. He already knew he was under fire and yet he became reckless in allocating his PDAF. That’s the problem. If there was no PDAF scam, you wouldn’t question the realignment. Now that he had an issue, he still did this. This has become a case of shamelessness.)
Jinggoy: Mayors requested funds
Estrada told reporters in a phone interview Thursday that he realigned his PDAF to Manila not to give money to his father, former President now Manila Mayor Joseph Estrada, but to help the city. He said Manila “has the highest poverty incidence on record.”
Trillanes though said this was a mere excuse. “Mga palusot na iyan, pero ‘di naman iyan ang intension niya noong ‘binigay niya iyan. I’m sure of it.” (These are just excuses, but I’m sure that was not his intention in realigning the funds.)
Asked what Estrada’s intention could possibly be, Trillanes said, “Kayo na bahala.” (It’s up to you.)
Trillanes said Estrada must also justify why he chose the 3 LGUs out of the many provinces, cities, and municipalities nationwide, especially because “these areas are not poor.”
“Malaking problema ‘yun lalo na at tatay niya iyon at siya pa ang napagsusupetsahang kumita sa PDAF. P100 million, ‘binigay niya sa tatay niya, may problema iyon,” Trillanes said.
(That is a big problem, especially because his father is mayor and he was suspected of earning kickbacks from PDAF. He gave P100 million to his father, that’s problematic.)
Yet Estrada said he realigned his PDAF to the 3 LGUs based on requests from the mayors that he received even before the Supreme Court struck down the PDAF as unconstitutional in November 2013.
“I realize that Manila is heavily indebted, so I realigned the PDAF to help the government of Manila and the mayors also wrote to me. In Caloocan, they wanted to build a public market. In Lla-lo, they needed school buildings.”
Besides Manila, the choice of the other LGUs raised questions because Caloocan Mayor Oscar Malapitan is Estrada’s party mate in the opposition United Nationalist Alliance (UNA), while another ally, Senate Minority Leader Juan Ponce Enrile, hails from Cagayan. Trillanes is Enrile’s bitter rival.
Chiz: Propriety depends on spending
Yet Escudero said Enrile had nothing to do with the realignment.
In a press briefing Thursday, Escudero said Estrada initially wanted to realign his PDAF to public hospitals but then submitted an amendment, reallocating it to the 3 LGUs instead. Escudero said Estrada submitted the amendment after the Senate passed the budget on 3rd reading.
Asked about the conflict of interest, Escudero said the allegation was “misleading.”
“You also should not discriminate against an LGU [whose official] has a lawmaker as a relative. I think the propriety or impropriety of an allocation will be determined by its use or utilization: where the money went, how it was spent, if the people benefited. That’s what will determine the [propriety of the] allocation.”
Escudero added: “What if the LGU really needs money? Will you still look for another senator to propose the funds? For as long as the senator can defend and stand by the realignment, [it’s acceptable].”
The finance committee chairman said no one questioned Estrada’s amendment because the senators decided in caucus to respect the decision of how each one on whether or not to delete or realign their own PDAF. Escudero admitted that the Senate did not set guidelines on realignment.
Escudero said 15 senators opted to delete their PDAF from the budget, 5 realigned it to the calamity fund, while 4 reallocated it for different projects including public works, health, education, and, in Estrada’s case, local governments.
Following the controversy over Estrada’s realignment, Escudero promised to release the full list of senators’ realignments on Friday “for the sake of transparency.”
From PDAF to ALGU
Estrada was the only senator who realigned his PDAF to the so-called Assistance to Local Government Units or ALGU. Escudero said that the ALGU is a regular component of the budget, and is a lump sum item.
“It’s a facility, it’s a procedure whereby it gives the executive flexibility to augment the budget of an LGU if needed. For example in [Super Typhoon] Yolanda, if there were no ALGU item in the 2014 budget, we cannot realign money in favor of LGUs,” Escudero said.
Estrada also lamented how critics “imputed malice” to his realignment.
“I am not giving my money to my father. I am giving it to the city of Manila as financial assistance to the city of Manila. It is expected to be transparent, open to public scrutiny. The same thing with Caloocan, Lla-lo in Cagayan. It benefits the poor people,” he said.
Estrada and Escudero also denied that the realignment was a circumvention of the Supreme Court ruling. They said the Court only prohibited the intervention of a lawmaker after the passage of the budget.
Despite the SC ruling, Escudero said lawmakers’ discretion and realigning funds cannot be removed from the budget process.
“That is the prerogative and power of Congress to propose any amendment to any bill presented before Congress. The reverse will be tantamount to an abdication of our legislative power. Do you want Congress to just approve the budget proposed by the President? What are hearings and debates for if we approve outright?”
Was process really transparent?
Trillanes and Senator Bam Aquino though said they were not aware of Estrada’s realignment before the media reported about it.
“By tradition kasi, individual amendments ‘di iyan pine-present na ganoon, ‘yung ganoon ka-detailed. When it’s being raised sa plenary for approval, lump sum na iyan, buo na iyan,” Trillanes said.
(By tradition, individual amendments are not presented in that manner, that detailed. When it’s raised before plenary, that’s already a lump sum.)
Escudero was asked whether or not the realignment sets a precedent for other lawmakers to realign funds to LGUs where their relatives are officials.
“That’s possible but that didn’t happen. There was no ALGU for Taguig or Makati.”
Escudero said it is still up to the President, through the Department of Budget and Management, to decide whether or not to release the ALGU to the 3 LGUs. He added that for the fund to be released, Manila, Caloocan and Lla-lo have to submit a special budget detailing how the money will be used.
Malacañang also quoted Budget Secretary Florencio Abad Thursday as saying that he will comply with President Benigno Aquino III’s veto message in the 2014 budget, which subjected Estrada’s realignment to “conditional implementation.”
In his 2014 budget proposal, Aquino included a P200-million ALGU without specifying LGU beneficiaries. The Senate increased the fund to P405 million, to factor in Estrada’s realignment.
Aquino said in his veto message, “The earmarking of specific appropriations for selected local government units…may not be consistent with the objectives and prioritization of the Local Government Support Fund. Accordingly, I hereby direct the DBM to issue the guidelines in the equal availment of the Fund by LGUs. Indeed, National Government support ought to be responsive to the actual requirements of LGUs in the interest of genuine local development.”
Asked what will happen if Abad decides not to release the money he set aside for his intended LGUs, Estrada said, “Manghihinayang ako on behalf of the people of Manila, Caloocan, Cagayan.” (I will feel it’s a waste on behalf of the people of Manila, Caloocan, and Cagayan.) – Rappler.com