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Miriam files resolution abolishing pork barrel

MANILA, Philippines - Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago on Wednesday filed a resolution that would phase out pork barrel of lawmakers by 2016.

Under Santiago's proposal, the Priority Development Assistance Fund will be cut in half for 2014. The reduced amount will then be further slashed in half by 2015 and will be completely abolished in the following year.

"This will phase out the pork barrel, so that the gradual abolition will be acceptable to Congress members," said Santiago, chair of the Senate committee on constitutional amendments, revision of codes, and laws.

The controversial PDAF hit the headlines again after an alleged scam involving the diversion of pork barrel funds of several lawmakers was recently exposed.

The pork barrel of these lawmakers are allegedly poured into dummy non-government organizations (NGOs) purportedly for ghost projects worth over P10 billion.

Currently, the PDAF allocated to each senator is P200 million per year, and P70 million to each congressman per year.

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For a full term of six years, a senator is expected to receive P1.2 billion, while a congressman is expected to receive P210 million for each three-year term.

In practice, some lawmakers receive more, others less, than their regular pork barrel, which is often used to fund infrastructure projects in the legislators' respective districts.

The feisty senator said senators and congressmen are expected to pass laws and not to build roads and bridges.

"We are legislators, not public works contractors," Santiago said. "People look up to us to make serious laws that could change the lives of a great number of people or could change the way society is run or managed."

The veteran senator admitted that her proposal for the total abolition of the pork barrel will meet strong opposition in both chambers of Congress.

"This is why the second best solution is to gradually phase out the PDAF. This will give senators and congressmen time to adjust to the new rules," she said.

But the lady senator found an ally in Senate President Franklin Drilon.

"I support that because from the very start I said na ako'y sang-ayon na alisin ang PDAF. The proposal of Miriam appears to be feasible," Drilon said in an interview, a transcript of which was posted on the Senate website.

Meantime, Santiago made some proposals to tighten the rules on the use of the pork barrel while it still exists.

These include the prohibition to release of the PDAF to overnment-owned or controlled corporations, which may later on be released to NGOs, fictitious or quasi-NGOs, or those headed by the relatives of politicians.

Scholarships should also not be allowed, said Santiago, as they are the responsibility of the more than 125 state universities and colleges.

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