DBM to blacklist NGOs in PDAF

Jess Diaz (The Philippine Star) - August 19, 2013 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines - The Department of Budget and Management (DBM) is intending to blacklist foundations and other non-government organizations (NGOs) from having access to the pork barrel funds of senators and congressmen.

 â€œThat is now on the table,” Budget Secretary Florencio Abad said yesterday when asked if he would favor denying lawmakers’ funds to NGOs in the wake of findings by the Commission on Audit (COA) of widespread irregularities in the use of the pork barrel.

 If the blacklisting pushes through, implementation of projects identified and funded by members of Congress would be left to government agencies, whose officials could be held accountable and punished faster than officers of private groups.

Abad said also being considered are “other measures to limit (lawmakers’) discretion to the minimum possible.”

 â€œBut we will have to confer with both Houses as they will ultimately have to concur with the changes,” he said, referring to the Senate and the House of Representatives.

 In his proposed P2.268-trillion national budget for 2014, which he submitted to Congress last July 23, President Aquino recommended tightening NGO participation in the use of the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF), the official name of the congressional pork barrel.

 This was before the COA came out with a report on anomalies in the use of the PDAF and other funds for various infrastructure and local projects (VILP) for the years 2007, 2008 and 2009 allocated to lawmakers.

 VILP funds came with budgetary insertions, euphemistically called congressional initiatives, which were treated as part of the congressional pork barrel. Starting with his first budget in 2011, Aquino has banned congressional initiatives.

Aquino, apparently upon Abad’s recommendation, suggested tightening NGO access to lawmakers’ funds by authorizing the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) to accredit qualified NGOs.

 However, in the COA special audit report, it turned out that DSWD, together with corporations under the Department of Agriculture, were among the conduits of large amounts of funds that lawmakers funneled to NGOs, many of them bogus and with dubious project implementation capability.

Besides, Social Welfare Secretary Corazon Soliman was linked to an NGO that supposedly made billions in a government bond-selling scheme in late 2001.

The proposed NGO accreditation scheme is part of a special provision in Aquino’s budget proposal on the use of the PDAF.

 If the Senate and the House agreed to Abad’s planned NGO blacklisting, a new provision containing the blanket prohibition would have to be written in the 2014 budget, on which the House has started public hearings last week.

 Sen. Francis Escudero, who chairs the Senate finance committee, favors blacklisting all NGOs in the use of pork barrel funds.

 His House counterpart, Rep. Isidro Ungab of Davao City, is among the more than 100 congressmen who gave funds to NGOs. But the COA report itself said Ungab’s signatures were forged.

According to COA Chairperson Grace Pulido-Tan, the foundations’ and NGOs’ “puhunan” (capital) was only “laway at koneksyon” (saliva and connections).

She said state agencies that acted as fund conduits “just turned around and illegally transferred the funds to NGOs chosen by lawmakers.”

 She said procurement of vegetable seeds and livelihood training and kits was the favorite project of legislators and where most irregularities were found. She even ridiculed some “vermiculture packages.”

 The products procured were overpriced, many NGOs had common suppliers and the names of beneficiaries were fabricated, she said.

 She added that she wept upon reading her auditors’ report.

 The report showed that 82 NGOs received a total of P6.156 billion from 12 senators and 180 House members. The biggest funders included Senators Juan Ponce Enrile, Ramon Revilla Jr. and Jinggoy Estrada.

 Ten of the NGOs were linked to businesswoman Janet Lim Napoles, now wanted for the alleged kidnapping of a PDAF scam whistleblower. The Napoles NGOs cornered P2.157 billion.

 Five former lawmakers and a former congressman’s relative gave funds to NGOs in which the COA listed them as stockholders or incorporators.

 Though his case is not covered in the COA report, one former congressman, Nereus Acosta of Bukidnon, is facing a graft case before the Sandiganbayan for allegedly giving funds to a family-controlled foundation. Acosta is now an adviser on environment to President Aquino.

 There is one NGO mentioned in the COA report that House sources claim is owned by a Mindanao congresswoman. The NGO received hundreds of millions from House members.

The COA report showed that the DSWD was a major fund conduit with P2.47 billion, while P2.613 billion passed through Technology Resource Center; National Livelihood Development Corp. with P1.3 billion, National Agribusiness Corp. with P1.265 billion, and Zamboanga del Norte Agricultural College Rubber Estate Corp. with P291 million.

 The PDAF is supposed to allocate P200 million a year for each senator and P70 million for each House member.

 But the COA found that six senators and 68 congressmen exceeded their allocations.

Former Rep. Manuel Zamora of Compostela Valley allegedly received more than P3 billion, though he denied it.

 The six senators with their excess allocations (on top of P200 million) were Angara, P384.375 million in 2009; Estrada, P136.85 million in 2008 and P265.3 million in 2009; Enrile, P5 million in 2008 and P342.5 million in 2009; Lito Lapid, P13.6 million in 2008; Revilla, P65 million in 2008 and P204 million in 2009; and Miriam Defensor-Santiago, P26.15 million in 2008.

Santiago is proposing the scrapping of the congressional pork barrel.

Quezon City Rep. Winston Castelo called for “massive reforms” in the use of PDAF, including a prohibition against the use of NGOs as project implementers.

 He said there should also be a transparent and detailed listing of projects, their location and beneficiaries, and strict project monitoring by lawmakers, implementing agencies, barangay officials, the public, and private citizens.

 Castelo aid these reforms would compel lawmakers and project implementers to be more transparent and accountable for their funds and projects.

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