Senators got P1.1 B on top of ‘pork’ funds

Aurea Calica - The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines - Senators were given a total of P1.1075 billion late last year and early this year by the executive department – on top of their P200-million regular Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) or pork barrel – so they could help in accelerating spending on key infrastructure and other projects, the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) disclosed yesterday.

“In the interest of transparency, we want to set the record straight on releases made to support projects that were proposed by senators on top of their regular PDAF allocation toward the end of 2012. These fund releases have recently been touted as ‘bribes,’ ‘rewards,’ or ‘incentives.’ They were not,” Budget Secretary Florencio Abad said in a statement.

Abad said the releases, which were mostly for infrastructure projects, were part of what is called the Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP) designed by the DBM to ramp up spending and help accelerate economic expansion.

“To suggest that these funds were used as ‘bribes’ is inaccurate at best and irresponsible at worst,” Abad said, apparently in reaction to an allegation of Sen. Jinggoy Estrada that Malacañang had offered additional pork barrel to the senators as “incentive” or reward for the ouster of then Supreme Court chief justice Renato Corona.

Estrada has been charged with plunder along with two other senators in connection with the pork barrel scam allegedly masterminded by businesswoman Janet Lim-Napoles.

He did not answer the charges against him in his privilege speech last Wednesday but revealed other cases of alleged PDAF misuse by other officials.

In 2012, most releases were made between October and December, Abad said, based on letters of request submitted by the senators.

Those who received P50 million each during the period were Estrada and Senators Antonio Trillanes, Manuel Villar, Ramon Revilla Jr., Loren Legarda, Lito Lapid, Alan Cayetano, Edgardo Angara, Ralph Recto, Vicente Sotto III and Sergio Osmeña III.

Then senator Francis Pangilinan received P30 million. Sen. Ralph Recto received P23 million in October and P27 million in December.

Sen. Aquilino Pimentel III got P25.5 million in October, P5 million in November and P15 million in December or a total of P45.5 million.

Then Senate minority leader Vicente Sotto III also received P50 million in two batches from October to November.

Sen. Teofisto Guingona III received a total of P44 million – P35 million in October and P9 million in December.

Then Senate president Juan Ponce Enrile received P92 million in December while his successor Franklin Drilon got P100 million.

There were two earlier releases made in late August 2012, according to Abad.

They were for Senators Gregorio Honasan (P50 million) and Francis Escudero (P99 million).

No funds were released in 2012 to Senators Panfilo Lacson, Joker Arroyo, Pia Cayetano, Ferdinand Marcos Jr. and Miriam Defensor-Santiago, Abad said.

In 2013, he said releases were made for funding requests from the offices of Arroyo (February, P47 million) and Pia Cayetano (January, P50 million).

“This was not the first time that releases from DAP were made to fund project requests from legislators. In 2011, the DAP was instituted to ramp up spending after sluggish disbursements – resulting from the government’s preliminary efforts to plug fund leakages and seal policy loopholes within key implementing agencies – caused the country’s GDP growth to slow down to just 3.6 percent,” Abad said.

Other recipients

He said DAP had also satisfied the funding requirements of other lawmakers, government-owned and controlled corporations, national government agencies, and local governments.

He said in 2011, DAP also supported projects like the relocation of families living along dangerous zones (P10 billion), equity infusion under the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (P10 billion), landowners’ compensation under the Department of Agrarian Reform (P5.4 billion), the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao’s comprehensive peace and development program (P8.6 billion), and “augmentation” of local government units’ Internal Revenue Allotments (P6.5 billion).

In 2012, Abad said DAP also funded crucial projects like tourism road construction under the Departments of Tourism and Public Works (P5 billion), the national government’s share in the Government Service Insurance System-Department of Education premium payments for teachers (P4 billion), Department of Agrarian Reform-Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) Tulay ng Pangulo (P1.8 billion), Department of Health-DPWH rehabilitation of regional health units (P1.96 billion), DepEd’s public-private partnership for school infrastructure (P4 billion), and Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas’ capital infusion (P20 billion).

For this year, President Aquino suspended DAP disbursements following the release of a Commission on Audit special audit report on irregular PDAF use.

“DAP releases are usually funded from unreleased appropriations under personnel services, as is the case when positions are either not filled up or filled up late. The releases may also be funded from the un-programmed fund – due to revenues generated beyond the target, such as GOCC dividends – carry-over appropriations unreleased from the previous year, as well as budgets for slow-moving items or projects that have been realigned to support faster-disbursing projects,” Abad said.

“While it is unfortunate that DAP releases are now being maligned to serve some very questionable political interests, we hope that these fund releases are seen exactly for what they are: as a valuable fiscal tool for accelerating government spending and the delivery of public goods and services to the people, not as an instrument for political coercion,” Abad said.

Defending pork, again

As the nation braces for another anti-pork barrel rally on Oct. 4, Malacañang is reiterating its position on the need for the President to keep lump sum funds for emergency expenses.

“We have already explained a number of times the rhyme and the reason for the existence of what they persistently or insistently call the ‘presidential pork barrel.’ In the past few weeks, you have seen that put to use,” deputy presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte said over radio station dzRB.

For instance, Valte said the funds to be used for the rehabilitation of Zamboanga City laid siege by the Nur Misuari faction of the Moro National Liberation Front would come from the Special Purpose Funds or the lump sum appropriation for Aquino’s office.

“And again, nobody will argue that what happened in Zamboanga City is something that was unforeseen or unplanned. So, we have reiterated that position numerous times and there has been no allegation of misuse as far as the Presidential Social Fund is concerned, as well as any Special Purpose Fund under this administration,” Valte said.

She said the President should be able to respond immediately to crisis and this could only be possible if funds were readily available.

“And there is an amount of flexibility that is needed in some of the Special Purpose Funds that are not under the line item (appropriations) for agencies,” Valte added.

Meanwhile, Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago said she expects the Office of the Ombudsman to complete its preliminary investigation into the plunder charges filed against 38 individuals, including three senators, within a short period.

While Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales has stated that it would take no more than a year to complete the preliminary investigation, Santiago said the process should be completed sooner since the Ombudsman only needs to secure a counter affidavit from those accused.

“She won’t be swayed by the tricks of the experienced lawyers to postpone or delay the case because lawyers for the case, they try to delay as much as possible,” Santiago said.

Greater trust

At the House of Representatives, Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr. expressed optimism yesterday the 16th Congress would emerge stronger and enjoy greater trust and respect from Filipinos as lawmakers continue to confront the raging controversy over the alleged misuse of pork barrel funds.

In his address to his colleagues after the proposed P2.268-trillion national budget for 2014 was passed on second reading before dawn Saturday, Belmonte said he was gratified that House members continued to function efficiently “amid the PDAF controversy that is hounding our institution.”

“I am truly inspired by everyone’s capacity to go beyond the realm of self-interest and to think collectively of what is best for the sake of the continued integrity of our institution,” the House leader said.

“With the commitment and cooperation which you have showed, I expect that the 16th Congress will rise above the prevailing challenge, stronger than ever and enjoying even greater trust from our people,” he said.

He said lawmakers hit the ground running when the 16th Congress opened in July, “laying the foundation of good policies and laws that will redound to national development.”

“Already we have submitted to the President for his action the enrolled copy of the SK (Sangguniang Kabataan) Elections Postponement bill, which we expect to be the very first law passed in this Congress,” Belmonte said.

He expressed gratitude to House leaders and members for setting their political differences aside in tackling the budget program and putting an end to budget re-enactment.

“Listening to the interpellations (on the proposed GAA), I can say that our colleagues did their work with great interest, with great information at hand, painstakingly and at times too lengthily. Nonetheless, they contributed immensely to the work and I would like to thank them,” Belmonte said.

He said the P25-billion PDAF that was supposed to be allocated in 2014 was broken up and the projects to be funded by it are now listed in detail in the proposed national budget for transparency.

“For the first time we will pass a budget that not only identifies the various items and objects of expenditure, but also presents the results that we want to achieve, and the major final outputs that departments and agencies must deliver according to their mandates,” he said.

He said the proposed GAA was crafted as “a budget for inclusive development… and can serve as a powerful tool that will help sustain the positive momentum of growth and reform that is upon us and has been with us for the past three years.” – With Marvin Sy, Paolo Romero

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