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‘Pork’ is back, insiders say

The invalidated pork barrel fund for senators and congressmen is back, and has increased by P10 million – or an P80-million allocation per congressman each year – under the administration of President Duterte. 

MANILA, Philippines - Is the pork barrel back?

The invalidated pork barrel fund for senators and congressmen is back, and has increased by P10 million – or an P80-million allocation per congressman each year – under the administration of President Duterte.

Sources revealed that the fund was initially offered “at least to neophyte members” of the House of Representatives, who have been told they would be allowed P50 million for hard projects and P30 million for soft projects.

Under the previous setup, the pork barrel – officially known as the Priority Development Assistance Fund or PDAF – was made available to lawmakers. A related budgeting scheme called the Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP) was devised during the Aquino administration.

After the Supreme Court (SC) declared unconstitutional the PDAF and key provisions of the DAP, funds were downloaded directly to congressional districts, with lawmakers banned from getting lump sums and earmarking projects for funding after the annual appropriation is approved.

It has yet to be ascertained whether this policy will be applied under the Duterte administration.

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There is no report yet on how much would be allocated for each of the 24 senators, who usually get at least P200 million annually. 

An insider disclosed that rookie lawmakers have been advised to submit to the House appropriations committee a “list of projects” that would be funded under the 2017 national budget, which the Duterte administration would submit to Congress.

The lawmaker-source said that based on the instruction, the House leadership under incoming speaker Pantaleon Alvarez made it clear that this doesn’t necessarily mean the pork barrel system is back, but that “they are just exercising their power of the purse.”

“We were told that the submission of the list of projects should not be treated as a return to the pork barrel system because the identification process is being done even before the next year’s budget is approved,” the source said.

This means there is “no violation” of the 2014 SC ruling declaring the unconstitutionality of the lump sum funds, which previously entitled senators to P200 million each a year and congressmen to P70 million.

The SC specifically prohibited the post-enactment intervention of members of Congress in the national budget.

“What we are doing now is pre-enactment activity that is within the power of the lawmakers,” the source said, adding some neophyte congressmen have submitted their list even before Duterte assumed office on June 30.

He said the instruction for neophyte lawmakers to submit the list of projects was relayed to them during the House orientation.

“Despite advertisement by leaders that the pork barrel system has been abolished, we are asked to submit a list of projects for inclusion in the 2017 National Expenditures Program. We continue to enjoy some entitlement to the funds,” he said.

“We really need these for our constituents for as long these projects are identified and not lump sums,” the congressman added.

Soft, hard projects

Soft projects refer to hospitalization, scholarships, training and livelihood while hard projects include infrastructure such as farm-to-market roads, waiting sheds, basketball courts and others.

Initially, neophyte lawmakers were given until June 30 to submit the list of their soft projects and July 1 for the hard.

For the soft projects, lawmakers will have the discretion on which among the departments of health, labor and employment, social welfare and development, state universities and colleges, Commission on Higher Education and Technical Education and Skills Development Authority to allocate their P30 million.

For hard projects, lawmakers were advised to submit their proposed infrastructure projects to the departments of public works and highways, and education.

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