Makabayan on 'pork barrel': Lawmakers fighting over people's money

MANILA, Philippines – Progressive lawmakers from the Makabayan bloc slammed the House leadership and committee on appropriations chairperson Karlo Nograles for feuding over the "pork barrel" in the proposed P3.757-trillion budget for 2019.

"The Makabayan bloc denounced the ongoing fight over the P55-billion pork barrel between the Duterte and Arroyo camps in Congress. The House leadership has essentially taken the national budget hostage because of the pork barrel impasse," said the Makabayan lawmakers in a statement sent late Tuesday night, September 18.

The following Makabayan legislators issued their statement after the House convened into a committee of the whole, which approved to realign P51.792 billion from the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH):

According to the lawmakers, Nograles said the multibillion-peso funds were allocated upon the "request of Malacañang and it should not be touched."

"This will give President [Rodrigo] Duterte tremendous presidential pork and a sizable campaign kitty for his candidates," they said. 

The Makabayan bloc said Majority Leader Rolando Andaya and other lawmakers allied with Speaker Gloria Macapagal Arroyo want the funds to be distributed to all House members instead. Sources told Rappler that Arroyo herself wants this redistribution scheme as well.

"The clash over the P55-billion largesse is a classic example of bureaucrat capitalism where the hard-earned funds of the people are being fought over and divided by politicians," said the Makabayan lawmakers. 

"The national budget should be used for the direct benefit of the Filipino people and not for campaign funds for the coming elections nor further fattening the pockets of politicians," they added. 

The realignment of the DPWH funds – originally earmarked for infrastructure projects in several regions – to other DPWH projects and other state agencies was done after the House leadership discovered around P50 billion was allegedly "misplaced" in the 2019 budget.

Nograles and ousted speaker Pantaleon Alvarez, under whose term the 2019 budget was prepared, both denied making such insertions.

'Realigned funds to be itemized'

On Wednesday, September 19, Andaya assured the public that the realigned funds would be itemized so they would not become a version of the now-unconstitutional Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF). 

"The approved amendments in the budget will be itemized. There will be no post-enactment identification, which is prohibited. Spelled out dapat (It should be spelled out)," said Andaya, who previously served as Arroyo's budget chief when she was still president.

Andaya, however, clarified that the process of identifying which specific projects the P51.792 billion would be allocated for will take some time to finish. 

One example Andaya cited is the additional budget for health workers, saying it would be hard to itemize "as it will be impossible to create what is basically a payroll."

"In the case of the Calamity Fund augmentation for Ompong rehabilitation, there is no comprehensive damage assessment yet which can guide as to what projects will be undertaken. As I said every line in the GAB (general appropriations bill) will comply with laws and judicial decisions on  public expenditures," said Andaya.

In November 2013, the Supreme Court ruled that PDAF is unconstitutional. This means that it is now illegal for legislators – whether individually or collectively organized into committees – "to intervene, assume or participate in any of the various post-enactment stages of the budget execution, such as but not limited to the areas of project identification, modification and revision of project identification, fund release and/or fund realignment, unrelated to the power of congressional oversight."

Budget Secretary Benjamin Diokno already denied accusations there are hidden pork barrel funds in the proposed 2019 budget. – Rappler.com

Mara Cepeda

Mara Cepeda writes about politics and women’s rights for Rappler. She covers the House of Representatives and the Office of the Vice President. Got tips? Send her an email at mara.cepeda@rappler.com or shoot her a tweet @maracepeda.

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