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Lawmakers vs ‘pork’ enjoy PDAF

MANILA, Philippines - Senators and congressmen who now want the P25-billion congressional pork barrel scrapped have been enjoying their share of the funds, widely perceived as a source of corruption.

The principal proponent in the Senate of the move to abolish the P25-billion Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) is Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago, whose PDAF allocation has reached P450 million over the past five years. PDAF is the official name of the lawmakers’ pork barrel.

Santiago has filed a resolution asking Congress to cut the PDAF by half next year, by another half in 2015, and to totally scuttle it in 2016.

The Department of Budget and Management (DBM) website shows Santiago received P150 million in 2009 during the Arroyo administration, P100 million in 2011, P200 million in 2012, and P100 million this year. She still has a balance of P100 million up to December.

The DBM website does not show an entry for her for the year 2010.

Santiago’s big project allocations this year include P15 million for dredging and construction of slope protection along Quiapo River in Candelaria, Quezon; rehabilitation of Pintor Road in San Isidro, Rodriguez, Rizal; P20 million for the improvement of the Morong-Cardona Diversion Road in Rizal; P10 million for road concreting with drainage in Barangay Tabuating, San Leonardo, Nueva Ecija; and P10 million for a similar project in Barangay Magpapalayok, also in San Leonardo.

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The pork barrel allocates P200 million a year for each senator and P70 million for each member of the House of Representatives.

Santiago’s Senate colleagues have also been receiving their respective share of “pork.”

The only ones who did not touch their annual P200-million allocation were former senators Joker Arroyo and Panfilo Lacson. Between them, they saved taxpayers P4.8 billion in the 12 years that they were senators.

In the House, the proponents of PDAF abolition are representatives of party-list groups Bayan Muna, Anakpawis, ACT Teachers, Gabriela, and Kabataan.

The DBM website shows that in 2009, P25.450 million was released to Anakpawis, P29.650 million to Bayan Muna, and P30.5 million to Gabriela.

In 2010, the DBM released P15 million to ACT Teachers, P36.7 million to Anakpawis, P73.3 million to Bayan Muna, P59.9 million to Gabriela, and P20 million to Kabataan.

In 2011, ACT Teachers received P50 million; Anakpawis, P26.795 million; Bayan Muna, P30 million; Gabriela, P97 million; and Kabataan, P46.695 million.

Last year, P20 million was made available to ACT Teachers, P52.3 million to Anakpawis, P124.775 million to Bayan Muna, P42.950 million to Gabriela, and P22.950 million to Kabataan.

This year, Bayan Muna received P83.350 million, while P20 million was released to Anakpawis, though these amounts represented the two groups’ PDAF balance for previous years.

The DBM has not released a single centavo of the five militant groups’ PDAF for 2013.

Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr. has urged senators and congressmen who want the congressional pork barrel abolished to just give up their share.

Other congressmen suggested that senators and militant party-list representatives could just remove their allocations from the annual PDAF.

In a news conference last week, members of the militant groups could not categorically say if they would give up their allocations in case the House retains the pork barrel.

No quarrel with solons

At Malacañang, deputy presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte said the President is not picking a fight with lawmakers on PDAF but the reforms on how it should be utilized would continue to be pushed.

Valte also clarified there was no need to compel lawmakers to submit their statements of assets and liabilities and net worth (SALNs) to the Bureau of Internal Revenue in connection with the pork barrel scam.

“We are prepared to work with them... This is not the first time that we have encountered this particular situation,” she said, referring to instances in the past when the President had signified his wish for lawmakers to limit their PDAF use.

“And you can see by now that the limitations, the tact to limit...has produced some success. So we will continue to work with the members of the House on this,” Valte said over radio dzRB.

“Technically, they are not supposed to submit it to BIR. It’s up to the House, anybody who wants to get a copy of the SALN, (they) should be able to go to the House secretariat to ask for the SALN because the word ‘submit’ – that is not regular, given that Congress is a co-equal branch and the BIR is under the executive branch. So that is one clarification that we want to make,” she said.

Asked about administration allies who had been protesting their being linked to the PDAF controversy, Valte said they had repeatedly been assured that any investigation would be fair.

“Let’s just restate that the investigation is impartial and is objective, and will be taken to its logical end based on the pieces of evidence and the testimonies that will be given before it,” Valte said.

BIR Commissioner Kim Henares was quoted in a report as saying they could not get copies of the SALNs of lawmakers.

Although the BIR’s role in the pork barrel scam probe is focused on the finances of Janet Lim-Napoles, Henares said they may also have to check on other documents, including the SALNs of some politicians being linked to the anomaly.

Napoles is the alleged leader of a syndicate using a network of bogus non-government organizations (NGOs) to squander the pork barrel funds of lawmakers.

Valte also clarified that Aquino only has a President Social Fund (PSF) that is subject to auditing and not a PDAF.

She said Aquino’s use of the PSF was transparent and the COA report on it could be accessed online.

The PSF normally benefits families of military and police personnel killed in the line of duty as well as victims of calamities and disasters.

Valte said the PSF is also tapped to send the children of slain soldiers and policemen to school, among other forms of assistance.

“If they are interested to see, the COA report is there. That is available for everybody to see,” Valte said.

On Friday, Valte said that based on her conversation with the President, he was averse to the abolition of PDAF.

“So what he said was, ‘it is really the share of the constituents in the budget.’ So technically, the job of the legislator is to bring to the attention of the national government the concerns that are not being noticed on the national level, but needed by the district or the town or the municipality that cannot be funded by the local government unit,” Valte said.

Alcala defended

Meanwhile, Isabela Rep. Rodito Albano defended Agriculture Secretary Proceso Alcala yesterday from criticism that he allowed lawmakers’ pork barrel funds to be used by bogus foundations.

“Secretary Alcala has no control over such funds. He should be credited for the increase in rice production, as evidenced by bumper harvests in Isabela and other rice-producing provinces, instead of being pilloried for something over which he has no control,” he said.

Albano, a member of the House minority bloc, said the issue of pork barrel fund misuse should be addressed to lawmaker-recipients who decide where their funds eventually go.

Alcala has said his conscience is clear on the alleged misuse of pork barrel allocations that passed through his agency and ended up in private foundations.

He said he is conducting his own investigation into the possible involvement of his subordinates in such irregularities.

Some agriculture officials reportedly involved in the latest scam were behind the misappropriation of P728 million in fertilizer funds in 2004.

Another House minority member, Arnel Ty of the party-list group Liquefied Petroleum Gas Marketers Association, said the country would have to improve its rice production to feed a growing population and an increasing number of foreign tourists.

“The doubling of the number of foreign tourists here by 2016 will add to our rice consumption. We may have to build up rice production even faster than originally planned,” he said.

Ty said that of the anticipated 10 million annual foreign visitors, more than six million are expected to come from seven rice-consuming Asian countries – South Korea, Japan, China, Taiwan, Singapore, Hong Kong and Malaysia.

The Department of Tourism aims to increase annual tourist arrivals from 4.3 million in 2012 to 10 million by 2016. It is also encouraging more visitors to stay in the country longer.

This year, some 5.5 million foreigners are expected to visit the country, and 2.4 million of them arrived in the first semester.

The International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) earlier warned that despite the government’s rice self-sufficiency program, domestic supply would remain tight owing to brisk population growth.

“The population of the Philippines is estimated at 97 million. Its annual growth rate of around two percent – among the world’s highest – means that just to keep pace with growing demand, the country would have to increase rice production and yield at rates rarely seen in history,” the IRRI said.

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