House has not abused PDAF – Belmonte
Jess Diaz (The Philippine Star) - September 18, 2013 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines - The House of Representatives has by and large not abused the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF), Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr. said yesterday.

He said the fact that only five former House members have been charged in connection with the “pork” scam shows that “most congressmen handled their PDAF very well.”

“On the other hand, those who violated the rules on the use of the fund will have to answer for it,” he said. Belmonte was reacting to the filing of plunder and graft charges against Senators Jinggoy Estrada, Juan Ponce Enrile and Ramon Revilla Jr., and former representatives Rizalina Seachon-Lanete of Masbate, Samuel Dangwa of Benguet, Rodolfo Plaza of Agusan del Sur, Constantino Jaraula of Cagayan de Oro City, and Edgar Valdez of the party-list group Association of Philippine Electric Cooperatives.

Of the five former House members, Belmonte said he knew only Jaraula “because we shared a term together.”

He said the Commission on Audit (COA) report on questionable PDAF disbursements from 2007 to 2009 mentions both former and incumbent members of the House as having given funds to non-government organizations (NGOs), including those linked to alleged pork barrel scam brains Janet Lim-Napoles.

He said if a lawmaker gave part of his PDAF to a bogus NGO once, he could claim that he was not aware of the questionable operation of such NGO and that he did not profit from the use of his funds.

“But if he did it repeatedly, it’s very hard for him to claim good faith. One of the persons charged virtually put all of his disposable PDAF on it,” he added.

He pointed out that such a pattern of making pork barrel funds available to an NGO or a group of NGOs would make one “come to a different conclusion.”

According to the COA special audit report, Estrada, Enrile, Revilla, and Sen. Gregorio Honasan funneled more than P1 billion of their PDAF allocations to Napoles NGOs.

Belmonte said he was sorry for Enrile. “As a personal friend I would like to commiserate with him. I don’t have any intention of interfering in any way. I am really sorry for him. I worked very well with him as the Senate president. We had a good working relationship,” he said.

He said in case some incumbent House members would be charged in connection with the “pork” scam, he and his colleagues would have to decide what to do with them and when.

“Right now, we are discussing at what point we can take action – whether when a complaint is filed (with the ombudsman), when there is prima facie evidence, or when a case is filed with the Sandiganbayan. This is really uncharted territory for us,” he added.

He admitted that all members of Congress are affected by the pork barrel scam.

“Friendship aside, this is really a blot on all of us. That is why we in the House are extending full, 100-percent cooperation with the investigating agencies in terms of making records and documents available to them,” he said.

He said in the case of his PDAF, he has used it mostly for road concreting projects in his district.

“I have not downloaded any money to any NGO,” he added.  

Scholarships in danger

For Eastern Samar Rep. Ben Evardone, more than 280,000 college students are likely to stop schooling next month unless the Supreme Court unfreezes the pork barrel funds of lawmakers.

He told a news conference that he has started a survey of members of the House of Representatives who are giving college scholarships to their poor constituents.

“So far, I have talked to 73 out of my more than 290 colleagues. These 73 are sponsoring the college education of 282,072 poor students, or an average of 3,835 per congressman. Since almost all House members have scholars, this means that the number of students affected could reach one million nationwide,” he said.

He said in his case, he is helping 3,710 scholars with his PDAF.

Evardone said these students might not be able to enroll for the second semester next month if the PDAF is no longer available as source of financial assistance for them.

He added that he and his colleagues would propose to Belmonte that the House petition the SC to free up their PDAF allocations for scholarships and medical assistance.

He pointed out that aside from scholarships, the next biggest expense item in their PDAF is assistance for their sick constituents.  – With Michelle Zoleta           




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