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Palace recalls P10.6 billion in GMA 'pork' releases

MANILA, Philippines - Malacañang and the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) are recalling P10.61 billion in pork barrel funds former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo had released to her congressional allies before she stepped down last June 30.

DWPH Secretary Rogelio Singson has ordered his regional directors, project directors and managers, and district engineers to “withdraw” the funds for the congressmen-recipients’ projects upon the request of Budget Secretary Florencio Abad.

Presumably, the withdrawal had the approval of President Aquino.

It was not known how many allies of Mrs. Arroyo were affected. The former president is now the representative of Pampanga’s second district.

The STAR learned of Singson’s order and Abad’s request on Monday when Mrs. Arroyo’s allies in the minority bloc in the House of Representatives invited the DPWH chief to a luncheon meeting.

Ostensibly, they wanted to air their complaints against Singson’s directive for the removal of project billboards showing the lawmakers’ images and names.

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But it turned out that their real purpose was to confront the DPWH chief about his fund withdrawal order and lodge their formal protest against it.

In his directive to DPWH field personnel, Singson echoed Abad’s concerns in asking for the recall of releases for “congressional initiatives” (the euphemism for pork barrel funds and budgetary insertions) Mrs. Arroyo had made.

In a letter to his Cabinet colleague, Abad said the P10.61 billion is part of a total of P30.32 billion that lawmakers had inserted in this year’s DPWH budget.

He indicated that the former president violated her own “conditional veto message” that she sent to Congress as part of her approval of the P1.54-trillion 2010 budget early this year.

He quoted the pertinent part of Mrs. Arroyo’s veto message, which provides that the “release of the increased items of appropriations is subject to the identification by Congress of new revenue measures in support thereof.”

The 15th Congress has not passed any new revenue bill. It has not even started tackling any revenue measure.

“This veto message is in line with the policy of keeping the (budget) deficit within the projected level for FY (fiscal year) 2010. As of end June 2010, the fiscal performance showed that the actual deficit of P196.7 billion exceeded the deficit target by P51.6 billion,” Abad said in his letter.

“In this regard, the release of P10.61 billion without the corresponding revenue measures identified by Congress will have the effect of bloating the deficit. However, if we are to maintain the deficit level with the release of said amount, this will lead to suppression of DPWH lump-sum funds of same amount, which in turn will lead to non-implementation /deferment of projects,” he said.

“Given these scenarios, there is a need to withdraw allotments that have not been obligated yet. Further, kindly review those that were already obligated and explore the possibility of their cancellation to enable this department to withdraw the unobligated allotments,” he said.

In his directive to his field personnel, Singson made it clear that the DPWH would have to sacrifice its own projects if funds released by Mrs. Arroyo for projects funded by congressional insertions were not recalled.

He ordered them to immediately inform him of the actions they have taken and the projects affected.

Reached for comment, former budget secretary and now Camarines Sur Rep. Rolando Andaya Jr. confirmed that there have been releases made out of the lawmakers’ budgetary insertions.

“I think some releases were made before I left (he quit in March). I already had second thoughts then about making those releases,” he told The STAR.

He would not say if Mrs. Arroyo ordered him to release the money.

Asked about the former president’s own condition that the funds would be made available to lawmakers only if they approve new tax measures, Andaya said, “That’s only part of the condition or the veto message but which is being highlighted.”

“The other part is you can release the money if there are savings or you kill or scrap an equal amount in the agencies’ regular appropriations,” he said.

Responding to another question, Andaya said he could not remember if there were releases of congressional insertions to other departments.

Actually, the P30.32 billion embedded in the DPWH budget is part of the P64.6-billion reduction senators and congressmen made from 2010 debt payment funds and which they diverted to their pork barrel.

In signing the budget, Mrs. Arroyo restored the debt payment cut but kept the lawmakers’ projects that were to be funded from debt funds.

The P64.6-billion diversion was on top of the more than P23 billion in annual regular pork barrel funds for members of Congress. Each senator gets P200 million a year, while each House member is allocated P70 million.

Thus, all told, lawmakers have more than P87 billion this year in regular pork barrel allocations and budgetary insertions, which were made by a congressional committee jointly chaired by Sen. Edgardo Angara and former Quirino Rep. Junie Cua.

The DPWH received the biggest augmentation from the diverted debt payments. The department’s budget is where most congressional insertions are hidden.

Other recipients of huge augmentations included the Department of Agriculture, which received an additional P3.3 billion; Department of Transportation and Communications, P2.1 billion; Department of Agrarian Reform, P1.3 billion; Department of Environment and Natural Resources, P1.5 billion; and Department of Interior and Local Government, P1.1 billion.

The Department of Social Welfare and Development got an additional P915 million, while the Department of Health got P566 million more.

Subsidies for government corporations were increased by P3.3 billion to P24.3 billion.

Among the recipients was Angara’s two-year-old Aurora Special Economic Zone Authority (ASEZA), whose 2010 budget jumped five times to P800 million from only P145 million as proposed by Mrs. Arroyo.

In a recent interview, Aurora Rep. Juan Edgardo Angara, who co-authored with his father the law creating ASEZA, said as far as he knew, no part of the additional P655 million for their free port has been released.

Senators and congressmen also augmented their own budget by P1.8 billion to P8.8 billion, and their Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) by P4 billion to P10.9 billion. PDAF is the only transparent pork barrel allocation in that it is so specified in the annual budget.

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