P-Noy hikes congressional pork to P27 B

Jess Diaz - The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines - President Aquino has not only retained the controversial congressional pork barrel in his proposed 2014 national budget, he even increased it by more than P2 billion.

Budget Secretary Florencio Abad told reporters that the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) went up from P24.8 billion this year to P27 billion in the recommended P2.268-trillion outlay for next year.

He said the P2.2-billion adjustment would be for the pork barrel allocations of the additional members of the House of Representatives.

“The House membership has increased to 292, from 282 or 285,” he said. Abad also said amendments to the rules on the disbursement of PDAF are being readied by the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) and the House of Representatives to ensure the funds are wisely spent.

The PDAF is the official name of the congressional pork barrel. It allocates P200 million a year for each senator and P70 million for each House member.

Amid reports that a syndicate led by businesswoman Janet Lim Napoles has skimmed P10 billion from the PDAF allocations of scores of senators and congressmen, Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr. has vowed to tighten the rules in the use of such funds.

Senators Juan Ponce Enrile, Jinggoy Estrada, Ramon Revilla Jr., Gregorio Honasan, and Ferdinand Marcos Jr. have been dragged into the controversy.

Enrile has urged the Commission on Audit (COA) to come out as soon as possible with its report on its special scrutiny of PDAF funds from 2007 up to 2010.

For this year, out of the P24.8-billion pork barrel, the DBM has released P11.4 billion.

Most senators and congressmen received their half-year allocation before the May 13 elections.

At least two senators, Enrile and Miriam Defensor-Santiago, received their allotments after the elections.

Of the P70 million made available to him, Enrile allocated P30 million for medical missions and medicine purchases – P10 million for the town of Bato, Leyte, and P10 million each for the towns of Madrid and Lanuza in Surigao del Sur.

He allotted P15 million for the improvement of the Naic section of the Noveleta-Naic-Tagaytay Road, P10 million for the rehabilitation of the Tanza section of Tejero-General Trias-Naic-Tagaytay Road, P5 million for a multipurpose building in San Juan, Batangas, and P5 million also for a multipurpose building in Mamburao, Occidental Mindoro.

Santiago has availed of her P100-million half-year allocation.

Her big disbursements included 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 Morong-Cardona Diversion Road in Rizal; P10 million for the concreting of road with drainage in Barangay Tabuating, San Leonardo, Nueva Ecija; and P10 million for a similar project in Barangay Magpapalayok, also in San Leonardo.

Amendments to rules

Abad said discussions are underway between the DBM and the House on ways to reform the system of allocating PDAF, and that they hope to get inputs from data culled from the ongoing investigation by the Department of Justice and the NBI into the P10-billion PDAF scam.

“This (reform plan) will be subject to discussion with the Speaker and the leaders of the House as well as the Senate. The Executive is going to propose summary forms on the way the Priority Development Assistance Fund is going to be utilized and the direction really is to limit discretion,” Abad said. “Also based on what may be found by the DOJ and the NBI, we’ll adopt some of those measures so that we can make sure that the PDAF really goes to assist the constituencies in the district of the representative,” he said.

He said the 2014 budget program contains “the whole and complete” PDAF allocation of P27 billion.

He said that in the past, only the “soft” portion – PDAF spending for scholarships, health, etc. – was mentioned as line item in the budget and the “hard” component, or those for infrastructure projects, are embedded in the allocations for the Departments of Public Works and Highways, and Transportation and Communications, and other agencies.

Abad said he is in favor of Belmonte’s proposal to restrict pork spending to the districts of congressmen as a “logical” and “politically acceptable” way of limiting corruption because their constituents would be the direct beneficiaries.

At the Senate, a proposal has been raised for the streamlining of committees as ameans to save money.

The process may involve reducing the number of committees from 35 to 24 or even 20, depending on the results of an ongoing review by an ad hoc committee created by Senate President Franklin Drilon.

Senate President Pro-Tempore Ralph Recto said most senators have agreed to provide a uniform budget for each oversight committee.

“In general terms, I can tell you this: We will cut down the budget of the Senate in terms of expenses,” Recto said.

He said the senators have agreed to be “more prudent in spending the people’s money.”

“We have to show the way as well through streamlining,” Recto said.

“We might fund only 20 or 24 of them so that one senator will just have one oversight committee.  In principle that is what we are discussing so that every member will be given a committee with uniform budget,” Recto said.

He said senators “have to be sensitive to public sentiment” because they are representatives of the people. Asked if any agreement had been reached on the liquidation of funds, Recto said: “Naturally we will follow COA guidelines.”  COA stands for Commission on Audit, which early this year called for an item-by-item liquidation of the respective budgets of the 24 senators.

COA said the practice of “liquidation via certification” should not be allowed as such was prone to corruption.

Bigger infra spending

Meanwhile, Abad said the administration aims to jack up infrastructure spending to five percent of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) by 2016 to attract more investments.

“The President’s commitment is to increase the investments in infrastructure to about five percent of GDP come 2016. So we project that infrastructure spending will rise to about P600 billion in 2015, to about P836 billion in 2016 compared to the current which is about P275 billion,” the budget chief said.

“That is why I think it will not be difficult for the President to comply with his commitment to finish, for example, the rehabilitation and paving of all anterior national roads by the end of 2014,” he said.

He said under the proposed national expenditure program, P18 billion would go to health facilities, meaning the construction and rehabilitation of barangay health centers, rural health units, district, provincial and regional hospitals.

The budget for housing was also increased, aside from the P10 billion allocated every year to relocate informal settlers living along danger zones, he said.

“Investments in agriculture and fisheries will increase further. We have continually invested in the rehabilitation and construction of our irrigation system which will receive about P21 billion,” Abad said.

The budget for farm-to-market roads was increased by about P12 billion, he said.

He said President Aquino wanted all farm-to-market road projects implemented by the Department of Public Works and Highways. A farm-to-market road, based on Aquino’s instructions, should be made of concrete five meters wide, eight inches thick, with a minimum length of three kilometers. – With Delon Porcalla, Christina Mendez, Paolo Romero

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