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MANILA, Philippines – Members of the 17th Congress are set to convene for the first time at the opening of their first regular session on Monday, July 25, along with the very first State of the Nation Address (SONA) of President Rodrigo Duterte.
Composing the current batch of Congress are 24 senators, 238 district representatives, and 59 partylist representatives.
Among them are 4 senators, 15 district representatives, and two partylist representatives whose names appeared in the special audit report that resulted from the probe into the release of the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) to questionable non-governmental organizations (NGOs) from 2007 to 2009.
|Emmanuel Joel J. Villanueva||senator||LP|
|Juan Miguel F. Zubiri||senator||independent|
|Ralph G. Recto||senator||LP|
|Richard J. Gordon||senator||Bagumbayan-VNP|
|Lorna C. Silverio||Bulacan, 3rd district representative||NUP|
|Rolando A. Uy||Cagayan de Oro City, 1st district representative||1STP|
|Renato J. Unico Jr||Camarines Norte, 1st district representative||LP|
|Arnulfo P. Fuentebella||Camarines Sur, 4th district representative||NPC|
|Benhur L. Salimbangon||Cebu, 4th district representative||NUP|
|Ramon H. Durano VI||Cebu, 5th district representative||NPC|
|Federico S. Sandoval II||Malabon City, lone district representative||NPC|
|Rozzano Rufino B. Biazon||Muntinlupa City, lone district representative||LP|
|Aurelio D. Gonzales Jr||Pampanga, 3rd district representative||NPC|
|Vincent P. Crisologo||Quezon City, 1st district representative||UNA|
|Michael John R. Duavit||Rizal, 1st district representative||NPC|
|Ronaldo B. Zamora||San Juan City, lone district representative||NP|
|Robert Ace S. Barbers||Surigao del Norte, 2nd district representative||NP|
|Prospero A. Pichay Jr||Surigao del Sur, 1st district representative||LAKAS-CMD|
|Ann K. Hofer||Zamboanga Sibugay, 2nd district representative||LP|
|Conrado Estrella III||Abono representative|
|Rodante Marcoleta||1-SAGIP representative|
In the audit report, Villanueva was CIBAC partylist representative, Zubiri was Bukidnon 3rd district representative and senator, Uy was Cagayan de Oro City 1st district representative, and Fuentebella was Camarines Norte 3rd district representative.
These 21 lawmakers are among the 48 lawmakers in the COA special report who won in the 2016 elections.
Also, they are part of the Congress that will no longer receive pork barrel funding. The Supreme Court decided on November 2013 to junk the PDAF due to its unconstitutionality.
Representatives Uy (Cagayan de Oro City), Salimbangon (Cebu), Zamora (San Juan City), and Hofer (Zamboanga Sibugay) were part of the 16th Congress, which received initial pork barrel funding in 2013. The SC ordered that the remaining 2013 PDAF allocations yet to be released to lawmakers be returned to the national treasury.
The SC decision follows the exposés in July 2013 of the alleged misuse of the multi-billion pork barrel fund, with businesswoman Janet Lim Napoles as the alleged mastermind.
There are 3 Congress winners, however, whose fate in the whole PDAF scam remains uncertain with the Ombudsman. Luckily for them, the Ombudsman’s orders were never an issue for their candidacies since no formal charges were filed yet against them.
In August 2015, the Ombudsman ordered a preliminary investigation and administrative proceedings against officials, including former Technical Education Skills and Development Authority (TESDA) head Villanueva.
Then in March 2016, the Ombudsman affirmed the findings of probable cause to indict 5 officials. Two of them – Biazon and Pingoy – ran for Congress and won in this year’s elections.
Meanwhile, some lawmakers who were implicated in PDAF-related cases chose not to run for a pork-less Congress, but instead fielded their relatives:
- former Davao del Sur representative Douglas Cagas fielded his wife Mercedes
- former Masbate representative Rizalina Seachon-Lanete fielded son Scott Davies
- former Malabon-Navotas representative Alvin Sandoval fielded brother Federico II
Joy Aceron of the Ateneo School of Government said in a Rappler article that declaring PDAF unconstitutional “will drastically change the composition of Congress and could give birth to a new legislature resulting in different dynamics in legislative-making and the executive-legislative relationship.”
That is, she claimed, “if pork is not resurrected in any form.”
There are fears that the PDAF may return – after the limit on the proposed annual budget for each legislative district increased from P70 million under the 16th Congress to P80 million in the 17th Congress.
But presumptive House Speaker and Davao del Norte 1st District Representative Pantaleon Alvarez dismissed this, saying that “congressmen will be allowed to propose projects needed in their districts so they can be included in the line budgeting of the General Appropriations Act (GAA).” – Rappler.com