Akbayan asks Aquino to scrap pork barrel

MANILA, Philippines - A party list allied with the President is asking him to abolish the pork barrel and said its representatives will refuse further allocations. 

Akbayan party-list representatives on Monday, August 19, asked President Benigno Aquino III to "immediately and without conditions" abolish the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) days after the release of the Commission on Audit report which found anomalies in at least P6.1 billion worth of lawmakers' funds.

"We call on President Aquino to support us in our call for the total and unconditional abolition of the pork barrel system," Akbayan Rep. Walden Bello said in a statement. "This is a system that has been exposed time and again as a tool of patronage politics aimed to foment elite rule through political dependence."  

Despite increasing public clamor to scrap the PDAF, Aquino has reiterated his stand to reform, rather than abolish, the system.  

With the statement, Akbayan finds itself on the same side as its rival Makabayan bloc, the first group in the House of Representatives to call for the total abolition of the fund. 

Akbayan Rep Barry Gutierrez, a former undersecretary of the Office of the Presidential Adviser on Political Affairs, said Congress "can no longer shut its eyes to how badly the PDAF has been exploited by the unscrupulous."

"It must act decisively against corruption and for the integrity of our institutions," Gutierrez said.  

In July, the Makabayan bloc filed House Bill 1535, which seeks to prohibit the government from including lump sum allocations, such as the pork barrel, in the yearly budget. The bill was filed after Janet Lim-Napoles was exposed as the alleged head of a pork barrel syndicate.

The House Minority bloc has also filed a resolution seeking an investigation into Napoles' operations.

But House leaders have so far been lukewarm to proposals to abolish the PDAF. Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr has maintained he would rather install reforms and limit the allocations to the respective districts of congressmen. 

Investigate allies 

The COA report only covers funds used from 2007 to 2009, which falls under the administration of former president and now Pampanga Rep Gloria Macapagal-Aroryo.

But should any anomalies also be discovered under the Aquino administration in subsequent investigations, Akbayan national chairperson Risa Hontiveros said Aquino must ensure that his "tuwid na daan (straight path)" mantra would also apply to his allies.  

"And if the process of investigations uncover similar anomalies under the new administration, the same process of accountability must apply," Hontiveros said. "That's how we should walk the tuwid na daan." Hontiveros ran for senator twice under the administration-led ticket in 2010 and 2013 but lost. 

Gutierrez said the abolition of the pork barrel system must be coupled with budgetary reforms, echoing calls for the swift passage of the Freedom of Infomation Act. - Rappler.com