P25-B lump sum PDAF to be removed, but…

MANILA, Philippines (Updated) – The lump sum of P25.2 billion that is the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) – the discretionary fund at the center of a scam involving lawmakers and dubious groups – will no longer be included in the proposed 2014 budget.

This was revealed to Rappler by House appropriations committee Rep Isidro Ungab on Monday, September 2 – fresh from a morning caucus of House leaders on what to do with the controversial pork barrel.

Ungab refused to answer the question on what will happen to the amount, although he indicated that breaking it down into line items in the budget, a compromise earlier announced by the Palace and Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr, is being reconsidered.

"The committee will abide by the collective decision of the House, Congress being a collegial body," Ungab told Rappler in a text message. "But definitely P25.2B will be removed as lump sum PDAF appropriations in the budget."  

President Benigno Aquino III announced on August 23 that he would abolish the PDAF and install a new scheme. It would supposedly set stricter controls on projects that senators and congressmen would be allowed to identify for funding. He also put the release of funds for 2013 on hold pending the complete investigation on the matter. 

"We agreed to support the call of the president to abolish PDAF," Ungab told Rappler after the Monday caucus, a week after the social media-driven #MillionPeopleMarch drove anti-pork barrel protesters to the streets.

It is what will happen to the P25.2-billion allocation for PDAF originally proposed in the 2014 budget that remains unclear.

Itemizing projects 'impossible' for now

Ungab said lawmakers will no longer be required to submit their list of preferred projects to be included as line items. 

"Not anymore because insertions are not allowed," Ungab said, referring to lawmakers identifying preferred projects.

Belmonte could not be reached for comment as of posting time, although sources close to him said he would be due to release a statement anytime.

It would be "impossible" at this point to require representatives to submit their proposed list of projects due to lack of material time, according Eastern Samar Rep Ben Evardone, a Member of the Liberal Party. 

Should Congress fail to pass the budget for a specific year on time, the budget for the previous year will be re-enacted until the new appropriations act is approved. Evardone said Congress wants to beat the deadline to pass the 2014 budget within the year to avoid re-enacting discretionary funds for lawmakers. 

"If we don't beat the deadline, even appropriations for PDAF will be re-enacted. That would be difficult," Evardone said. 

Lawmakers are leaving it up to DBM to decide on what to do with the P25.2 billion amount. 

What about our scholars?

With the decision, lawmakers raised concerns about how continuing projects in their districts will be funded, such as scholarships and healthcare. 

"What about our scholars? That's the question no one can answer," Evardone said. 

Lawmakers' discretionary funds were placed in the spotlight following exposés alleging that solons channeled funds to dubious nongovernmental organizations controlled by Janet Lim-Napoles, who is now in the custody of police. 

A recent special Commission on Audit report found 192 solons channelling their PDAF to questionable groups, which misused at least P6.1 billion worth of funds from 2007-2009.

Rappler's special reports showed that of the PDAF released from 2006-2011 through one government corporation alone, almost half went to dubious NGOs and P1.35 billion was misused. The lawmakers linked to the scam included administration allies and members of the opposition.  – Rappler.com