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MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – Vice President Jejomar Binay will push for a new form of pork barrel for Congress if elected president, saying a Supreme Court ruling made lawmakers unable to respond to their constituents' needs.
The opposition standard-bearer said a “Binay administration” will revisit the High Court decision declaring the corruption-ridden Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) unconstitutional.
Binay announced the plan as he addressed the national convention of the National Unity Party (NUP), a gathering of politicians formerly allied with ex-President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo.
“The PDAF was declared unconstitutional. Congressmen can't immediately give help to their constituents for burial assistance, etc. I will create a committee to study how members of Congress can give immediate assistance. We have to revisit the limits and effects of the Supreme Court decision on PDAF,” Binay said on Monday, September 28 in a speech at the Sofitel Philippine Plaza in Pasay.
In 2013, the Supreme Court handed down a landmark ruling striking down the PDAF after a massive corruption scandal was exposed implicating top senators and representatives.
The so-called pork barrel scam involved siphoning off millions of pesos in development funds meant for the poor to bogus non-governmental organizations in exchange for kickbacks to lawmakers. (READ: Pork tales: a story of corruption)
The PDAF was meant to help lawmakers fund projects for their constituents but became a form of patronage politics. Requests for assistance for hospitalization, and education used to be sourced from the fund.
In an interview after his speech, Binay said there is a need to clarify the definition of PDAF as prohibited in the court decision.
“Dahil sa noon naman p'wede namang sabihin ang pagtulong ng members of Congress sa mga nasasalanta, kailangang madaling tulong eh. We will try to revisit it, ang decision ng Supreme Court para mabalik ang mabilisan, agarang pagtulong ng members of Congress sa kanilang constituents.”
(Because before, members of Congress were allowed to help victims of disasters, that needs immediate assistance. We will try to revisit the Supreme Court decision to bring back the immediate, speedy assistance of members of Congress to their constituents.)
Binay said what he is proposing is another form of pork barrel to cater to urgent needs like calamities and burial assistance.
“We won't call it PDAF because that is banned," Binay said.
“Because now, you have to itemize, identify the projects,” he added.
The former Makati mayor, who is accused of amassing wealth through allegedly overpriced projects of the city government, was asked how he can prevent the abuse of the pork barrel he is envisioning.
Binay responded: “We have to consider the pronouncement of the Supreme Court that by itself it's unconstitutional. Let's see. We have to weigh and study.”
'Local officials have limited funds'
Binay's ally, former Quezon Representative Danilo Suarez, echoed Binay's proposal.
"Even when our province was hit by a typhoon, we did not have the funds. Local officials only have limited funds. The national government did not help us," Suarez told reporters at the sidelines of the event.
Suarez is the co-chairman of the Lakas party of Arroyo, and a staunch supporter of the former president.
A lawyer, the Vice President said based on his understanding, what the court prohibited is the “hard” pork barrel or funds meant for infrastructure projects like school buildings. He said his new form of pork barrel might include “soft” or those pertaining to livelihood projects.
The court though banned all forms of PDAF, particularly acts or projects done after the enactment of the national budget. The justices said the old practice violated “the principle of non-delegability of legislative power.”
The Supreme Court ruling on PDAF forced lawmakers to plan their projects before the enactment of the budget, and to endorse the requests of their constituents to national agencies like the Department of Social Welfare and Development, and the Department of Health.
In the old practice, the PDAF system was prone to abuse because of the lack of safeguards monitoring the planning, bidding, and implementation of projects from the P200 million ($4.27 million) PDAF allocation for senators, and P70 million ($1.49 million) for representatives.
Binay also requested for a P200 million PDAF allocation as vice president, which was granted to him. Yet when the scandal erupted, he agreed to forego the funds along with other lawmakers before the Court struck it down.
Binay was one of 3 aspirants in the 2016 polls who addressed the NUP to get its endorsement. The others were administration standard-bearer and former Interior Secretary Manuel "Mar" Roxas II, and Senator Ferdinand "Bongbong" Marcos Jr.
The NUP has yet to decide who it is supporting for president. – Rappler.com