Palace: PDAF abolition a policy statement
Delon Porcalla, Jess Diaz (The Philippine Star) - October 12, 2013 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines - Malacañang clarified yesterday that its announcement of the abolition of the congressional pork barrel – officially called Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) – was just a “policy statement” as only the Supreme Court (SC) can strike down a law.

“It was a policy announcement on the part of the President because, legally, PDAF is part of the GAA (general appropriations act), which is a law,” deputy presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte said.

Budget Secretary Florencio Abad issued the same explanation. He said the SC, by declaring PDAF unconstitutional, would effectively have it voided. The SC is deliberating on petitions contesting the constitutionality of PDAF.

Regarding the P25-billion PDAF allocated in the 2014 budget, Abad said only Congress can remove it.

Cavite Rep. Elpidio Barzaga Jr. said a SC decision on PDAF would be useless in two and a half months when Congress shall have approved a budget program without PDAF.

“Unless the SC resolves the case sooner, this issue will become moot and academic on Jan. 1, when the nation will have a new budget without the PDAF as we know it,” Barzaga said.

He said the House has decided to distribute the proposed P25-billion PDAF for next year among six agencies that would implement projects in legislative districts throughout the country.

He said the lawmakers’ infrastructure projects would be listed in detail in the 2014 national budget, eliminating post budget-approval, project identification, a feature of the present system that the public and some SC justices find objectionable.

“We will leave it to the agencies to implement those projects. These agencies should expose lawmakers who will meddle in project implementation,” he added.

As for funds for scholarships and medical assistance, Barzaga said their use would be within the discretion of the Department of Health and government hospitals and the Commission on Higher Education.

In defending the PDAF before the SC on Thursday, Solicitor General Francis Jardeleza said the House is doing away with PDAF as a lump-sum appropriation.

He admitted that there have been irregularities in the use of the fund as exposed by the Commission on Audit, but that the “political branches” of government – referring to Malacañang and Congress – are taking corrective measures.

He said one such measure is President Aquino’s suspension of further PDAF releases and another is the House’s abolition of the PDAF in next year’s budget.

He asked the SC not to intervene while the President and his congressional allies are trying to correct mistakes in the use of congressional pork barrel funds.

“The scuttling of the pork barrel is a collective decision of the political leadership – meaning the President and his congressional allies. The President is involved because he is the proponent of the budget. But it was the House that carried out the decision and abolished the PDAF in approving the budget on second reading two weeks ago,” he said.

He said the justices should just have taken notice of the House decision, of which Jardeleza has informed them, instead of taking issue with the wrong declaration of a Palace spokesman that it was Aquino who abolished the PDAF.

He was referring to the statement of presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda, which Justice Antonio Carpio had disputed.

Carpio said the power to scrap the pork barrel belongs to Congress, not the President.

He also asked Jardeleza that if Aquino had abolished the PDAF, as Lacierda claimed, why are the Palace and the House asking the SC to lift the temporary restraining order (TRO) on PDAF releases.

Barzaga, a lawyer-accountant, said the PDAF still exists in the 2013 budget and has in fact a balance of more than P13 billion, the amount covered by the TRO.

“We are asking the justices to partially lift the TRO so that financial assistance could be made available to hundreds of thousands of college scholars and to hundreds of thousands of sick people queuing in government hospitals for medicine and treatment. That is not asking too much of the court,” he said.

He said Congress would welcome any SC decision on the PDAF issue as it would guide lawmakers in the future in appropriating pork barrel funds.  

Tolling bells

Church bells in at least 21 dioceses and archdioceses rang simultaneously at 1 p.m. yesterday in a show of solidarity by church people with the faithful’s call for the abolition of pork barrel.

“For the church and the faithful, the bells is an indication that God is with us and God is calling us together…Because God is with us, we have to be close to the poor for justice because God is calling us to him. Therefore, we have to return to him and ask the leaders of our country to repent,” Fr. Ben Alforque, convenor of the Church People’s Alliance Against Pork Barrel, said.

“We are hoping that the bells would be loud enough to awaken the conscience of President Aquino and the others,” he added.

In Ilagan City, Isabela, Bishop Joseph Nacua said Congress has no business implementing projects. He said it would be better for legislators to assume the role of watchdogs against corruption instead of playing a direct role in the disbursement of funds.

Meanwhile, the camp of Sen. Ramon Revilla Jr. is planning to file counter plunder charges against pork barrel scam main whistle-blower Benhur Luy, his cohorts, and the heads of the implementing agencies allegedly involved in the siphoning of public funds to non-government organizations (NGOs) linked to alleged scam mastermind Janet Lim-Napoles.

Revilla’s lawyer Joel Bodegon said they would include in the complaint Technology Resource Center (TRC) director Dennis Cunanan, who had issued an affidavit linking Revilla to the scam.

Bodegon said Napoles would not be included in the complaint because she had said in previous media interviews that she had never dealt with Revilla. – With Christina Mendez, Raymund Catindig, Evelyn Macairan







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