“Since last year when the Napoles pork barrel scam was exposed, our people have consistently and repeatedly shown, through protest actions, opinion surveys, social media and the ongoing people’s initiative process, their vehement opposition to any and all forms of pork barrel, whether congressional or presidential.”
By MARYA SALAMAT
MANILA – House Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr and some congressmen of the House Committee on Appropriations might deny that pork barrel funds are still part of the 2015 budget, or some senators like Francis Escudero may choose to view the legislators’ purse power as their power to decide on apportioning pork, but as far as anti-pork groups are concerned, the continuing “shameless plunder of government coffers” has to end. And the challenge is with the senators now.
The latest versions of Malacañang’s pork-laden 2015 budget proposal are approved last night in the Senate. Thirteen senators were present. Despite approving the “temporary lump sums” and other funds which various groups objected to saying it transformed the budget into pork under the president’s or his appointees’ control, the 2015 budget reportedly carried a proviso that it contains no pork barrel.
Leaders of various anti-pork barrel groups and personalities had hand-delivered to Senate Finance Committee Chairperson Francis Escudero, in a dialogue held at the sidelines of the budget hearing on November 25, their signed letter of appeal to senators. Citing how Filipinos have made evident their disgust of pork in various means, they appealed to senators as it started plenary deliberations on the 2015 budget to “consider the demands of our people for an end to the pork barrel system.”
According to multi-sectoral alliance Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan), Pres. Aquino and his friends in Congress have clearly demonstrated that they could not help themselves “in dipping their dirty fingers in the cookie jar.” They wondered whether the Senate can resist the same temptation, or if it would also bow down to the wishes of Malacañang.
“Since last year when the Napoles pork barrel scam was exposed, our people have consistently and repeatedly shown, through protest actions, opinion surveys, social media and the ongoing people’s initiative process, their vehement opposition to any and all forms of pork barrel, whether congressional or presidential,” part of their letter-appeal said.
Last week, Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago echoed in a privilege speech at the Senate the claims of various anti-pork groups that pork in fact remains in the 2015 national budget. For this, she earned praises from anti-pork groups.
But House Speaker Belmonte, some members of House Committee on Appropriations, and Senator Francis Escudero, were quoted in a Philstar report yesterday as defending the current versions of 2015 national budget. Belmonte denied the existence of pork.
In the version approved by the House of Representatives, as previously revealed by Rep. Antonio Tinio during budget debates in Congress, pork barrel allocations for congressmen is up by 32-percent from P20.76 billion ($461.7 M) in 2014 to P27.39 billion ($609.2 M) in 2015.
“This means that each congressman will get around P94.44 million ($2.1 M) in congressional pork in 2015, which is higher than the traditional PDAF allocation of P70 million ($1.56 M) per congressman,” said Teddy Casiño, spokesman of Bayan.
The group said the pork is tucked-in as line item budgets in the following departments:
DPWH Local Infrastructure Program – P18.37 billion ($408.55 M)
DSWD Comprehensive and Integrated Delivery of Social Services – P3.64 billion ($80.95 M)
CHED and SUCs Tulong Dunong Program – P2.46 billion ($54.71 M)
DOH Assistance to Indigent Patients – P1.76 billion ($39.14 M)
DOLE Government Internship Program and Tulong Panghanapbuhay sa Ating Disadvantaged Workers “TUPAD” Project – P611.7 million ($13.6 M)
TESDA Special Training for Employment Program – P543.3 million ($12.1 M)
These funds, just like the PDAF, are pre-allocated to each district and party list group and their release are subject to referrals or recommendations by the congressmen to government agencies, ACT Partylist Rep. Antonio Tinio had said.
In reaction to pork critics, the Senate’s version of the General Appropriations Bill contained a provision that required all agencies with lump sum funds to submit an itemized listing of items for funding before the actual release of money.
Senator Escudero defended this pork as “temporary lump sums,” which legislators could spend only after they submitted a ‘listing” of projects in Congress and the Commission on Audit (COA). He described it as a way of exercising the congressmen’s power of the purse.
In the Senate-approved budget last night, it required itemization of budget before the pre-approved lump sums can be availed of, and it introduced a penalty for failure to submit the list in Congress and the Commission on Audit.
But even before the senators approved that “temporary lump sum,” Casiño of Bayan had said this “discreet system” is the legislators’ way of going around the Supreme Court decision which essentially abolished PDAF as an item in the national budget.
Bayan also pointed to the bigger pork allotted to the president. They pointed to around P958 billion ($21.306 B) in special purpose funds, unprogrammed funds and lump sum appropriations, which can be released upon the sole discretion of the President and his appointees.
The following, according to Bayan, are considered presidential pork items:
Budgetary Support to GOCCs – P61.3 billion ($1.4 B)
Assistance to LGUs – P33.1 billion ($736.14 M)
Risk management program – P30 billion ($667.2 M)
Support for infra projects and social programs – P20 billion ($445 M)
Unprogrammed funds, P123 billion ($2.74 B)
Miscellaneous Personnel Benefit Fund – P118 billion ($2.62 B)
Grassroots Participatory Budgeting – P20.9 billion ($465 M)
Pamana program – P7.3 B ($162.4 M)
Based on Bayan’s study of versions of the 2015 budget up for finalization in the Senate, these are not only headed to resurrecting, in a bigger way, the legislators’ pork (previously called PDAF), these would also resurrect the DAP (Disbursement Acceleration Program), which had largely been declared as unconstitutional by the Supreme Court this year.
Eastern Samar Rep. Ben Evardone, an appropriations committee vice chairman, was quoted in a Philstar report as defending the House version of the Malacañang budget, particularly the constitutional power of Congress to define savings.
But with their draft redefinition of savings as proposed by Malacañang, “the entire budget becomes the President’s pork barrel since he will now be allowed, DAP-style, to declare billions in ‘savings’ in the middle of the year for realignment to his or his allies’ pet projects,” Casiño said in a statement.
Bayan appealed to all Filipinos to protest the “unbridled government corruption and other crimes of the Aquino regime on November 30, Bonifacio Day.”
In a separate statement, the spokesperson of #Abolish Pork said that around 12,000 protesters are expected to participate in the Nov. 30 action with the theme “Diwa ni Bonifacio, Tunay na Pagbabago!” The program will start at 2:00 p.m. at the Liwasang Bonifacio and end with a march to Mendiola bridge at 4:00 p.m., said UP Professor and Abolish Pork Movement spokesperson Sarah Raymundo.