MANILA, Philippines (Updated) – Months after the the impeachment of former chief justice Renato Corona in May 2012, congressmen received an off-budget disbursement of P10 million each, Speaker Feliciano "Sonny" Belmonte Jr said Monday, September 30.
Like his counterpart in the Senate, however, Belmonte denied the amount had anything to do with getting the votes to impeach Corona, whom the President had made clear he wanted out of the High Court.
Belmonte spoke about the releases days after a privilege speech on the Senate floor by Sen Jinggoy Estrada, saying that senators received a P50 million bribe after the Corona's conviction. He later said the amount was only an "appeal" and not a bribe.
"First of all, it was only P10 million and not everybody has received it. And you know, it's very difficult to connect it to Corona because even up to September, hindi naman lahat, little by little," Belmonte said on the sidelines of the general membership meeting of the Makati Business Club in Makati City.
Belmonte said the fund was used for infrastructure projects to combat underspending and boost the economy in 2012. Belmonte himself admitted to receiving the P10 million.
Belmonte said he believes there is nothing irregular about the fund releases.
"This is not a case where people scrimped around for money to give to congressmen. This was the result of underspending by the [Department of Public Works and Highways] in 2011, which have resulted in money made available through savings that had to be spent, and most of them were released in the second half of 2012," Belmonte said.
The funds were released between August and September to all House members, Belmonte said, adding that his office's records show 13 to 14 people, including House Majority Leader Neptali Gonzales II, "have not availed" themselves of the amount as of this point.
Senator Estrada revealed the alleged convict-Corona releases last week to raise the point that the administration may have misused discretionary funds as well, but only opposition senators like him were being prosecuted for plunder for allegedly misusing their pork barrel.
Budget Secretary Butch Abad earlier denied the P50 million disbursements to senators were bribes. He said the money was part of government's Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP) sourced from savings of agencies that is designed to ramp up government spending. – Rappler.com