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Congress budget cut by P400 M

MANILA, Philippines - President Aquino has reduced funding in the 2014 national budget for senators and congressmen by about P400 million.

Budget documents submitted on Tuesday to leaders of Congress show that Aquino cut Senate funds by P300 million, and appropriations for the House of Representatives by P100 million.

The Senate budget will go down from P3.294 billion this year to P2.998 billion in 2014, while the House outlay will be reduced from P6.357 billion to P6.248 billion.

Of the senators’ P2.998 billion, P1.591 billion will be for salaries, while P1.407 billion will be for maintenance, operating and other expenses (MOOE).

Newly elected Senate President Franklin Drilon has said his chamber would save on its spending by reducing the number of joint congressional oversight committees, and not giving Christmas bonus and extra MOOE funds to its members.

The Senate has 39 standing committees and 35 oversight committees, or a total of 74, or at least three committees per senator.

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However, collapsing joint oversight committees would require the concurrence of the House.

Last December, a scandal erupted over millions in bonuses and additional MOOE funds given to a select group of allies by then Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile.

Of the congressmen’s P6.248 billion for next year, P3.060 billion will be for salaries, while P3.138 will be for MOOE and P50 million for capital outlay (procurement of equipment, building renovation and the like).

Funding for the Commission on Appointments, Senate Electoral Tribunal and House of Representatives Electoral Tribunal  (HRET) will almost be the same as this year’s levels.

For next year, these congressional bodies will have P501.1 million, P126.7 million and P148 million, respectively.

While cutting their operational funds, Aquino increased the lawmakers’ pork barrel from P24.8 billion this year to P27 billion in 2014.

He has also increased funds for his own office by P91 million, from P2.701 billion to P2.791 billion.

The bulk of the P2.791 billion, about P2 billion, will be for MOOE, while P609 million will be for salaries and P183.4 million for capital outlay.

The office of Vice President Jejomar Binay will have P417.3 million for next year, or an increase of less than P1 million from this year’s funding level.

Of that amount, P200 million represents Binay’s PDAF, P69 million will be for other operating expenses, P100 million for capital outlay, and P48.2 million for salaries.

Binay’s daughter Nancy will have another P200 million in PDAF as a senator. His younger daughter Abigail will have P70 million as a House member. 

‘Congress no rubber stamp’

 Malacañang defended yesterday the decision of the executive branch to limit the discretion of members of Congress on the use of their Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) or pork barrel.

Budget Secretary Florencio Abad announced the proposal as he turned over to the House of Representatives the P2.268-trillion proposed budget for next year amid allegations that some P10 billion in pork barrel funds were channeled by some lawmakers to bogus non-government organizations (NGOs) and people’s organizations.

In a press briefing, deputy presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte said it was not the first time to specify or offer a menu of projects that lawmakers could choose from for their pork barrel funds.

“From the time that the President (Aquino) assumed office, we have always been working with Congress on the projects that can be funded out of their PDAF. So I will defer to Secretary Abad on any additional changes or any stricter measures that can be implemented but, it’s not the first time that we have worked with them on a menu of sorts for funding out of their PDAF,” Valte said.

She disputed claims that Congress would just become a rubber stamp of the Palace if the lawmakers’ discretion on the use of pork barrel funds would be limited.

Judging from the relationship of the Palace as well as the Senate and the House of Representatives in the 15th Congress, Valte said it was clear that there was still check and balance.

Meanwhile, House Majority Leader and Mandaluyong City Rep. Neptali Gonzales II said the procedures for the release of the PDAF for regular congressmen are easier to tighten as they have specific districts.

Earlier, Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr. suggested the PDAF projects of district representatives be limited to their respective jurisdiction or constituents to minimize corruption as they can be easily monitored.

Party-list lawmakers, which number at 59 in the 16th Congress, however are considered to have nationwide constituencies as they are identified by their advocacies or the sectors they represent.

“If we plan to limit the PDAF projects to districts in the case of district representatives, I suggest that in the case of party-list congressmen, we limit the releases or projects that are related to their causes,” Gonzales said in a telephone interview.

For his part, Sen. Francis Escudero, new chairman of the Senate finance committee, vowed yesterday that the P2.268-trillion 2014 budget will be safeguarded from corruption.

Escudero revealed that the executive branch has set targets for each agency in a bid to ensure the proper use of funds. - With Aurea Calica, Paolo Romero, Christina Mendez

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