MANILA, Philippines – There will be no additional pork barrel funds for members of Congress in President Aquino’s proposed P1.645-trillion 2011 national budget, Eastern Samar Rep. Ben Evardone said yesterday.
Evardone said the minimum P50 million that the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) has promised to allocate for each legislative district cannot be treated as part of the congressional pork barrel.
“Unlike our PDAF (Priority Development Assistance Fund), we will have no participation in the use of the funds and identification of projects. The funds will be under the control of DPWH, which will also identify the projects or augment the funds for those already specified in the national budget that have less than P50 million allocation,” he said.
He added that the DPWH is just trying to equalize the allocation of money among legislative districts, including collections from the road user’s tax, which are administered by the Road Board chaired by the DPWH secretary.
Evardone cited his home province and Marikina City as examples.
He said Eastern Samar is allocated some P1.8 million in the P110-billion DPWH budget for next year, while Marikina would get only P1 million.
“The department would have to augment the allocations to P50 million under our agreement. The department will identify the projects. If it is a new road project, they would have to lengthen the portion that they plan to build,” he said.
He added that districts with P50 million or more worth of infrastructure specified in the national budget would not get any augmentation.
“It’s a laudable, somewhat equitable arrangement, although many districts will definitely get more than others,” he stressed.
Transparency and accountability
Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr. defended the arrangement on Friday and denied that the pork barrel portion of the national budget has increased, much less doubled, as alleged by some quarters, after an all-party caucus in the House of Representatives.
Belmonte even cited the case of two districts in Pampanga.
He said the second district, now represented by former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, was allocated P2.2-billion worth of public works projects, while a nearby district would get only P6 million.
Belmonte said that under the agreement, the P6 million would be increased to P50 million. The PDAF itself stays at P70 million.
Congressmen had complained that the initial guidelines were too restrictive and that their requests already endorsed by the chairman of the appropriations committee and the Speaker were being returned by the Department of Budget and Management (DBM).
The lawmakers wanted a return to the terms of the 2010 General Appropriations Act (GAA), which allow “assistance to local government units (LGUs)” without conditions. In some cases, the amounts were used as intelligence funds or given to NGOs, both hard to audit.
A broader list of projects under the category “assistance to LGUs” was agreed upon, but all of these are easily audited. Belmonte said this promoted transparency and accountability.
The other decision at the meeting was to ensure that each district had DPWH funding of at least P50 million to be spent by the DPWH without congressional intervention.
Belmonte clarified that no district will have less than P50 million in DPWH projects.
In practical terms, this meant only an additional P1.2 billion in 44 districts. He emphasized that like the itemized allocation in the proposed budget, this was not pork as congressmen will not have anything to do with its implementation.
He said that the all-party caucus was called as a follow-up of a meeting between DBM Secretary Florencio Abad and a smaller group of congressmen last Wednesday.
Not a pork barrel
Meanwhile, Evardone said that in the case of PDAF allocations, it is the congressmen and senators who decide where the money would go and for what projects.
“For instance, I can give my funds to state schools for scholarships or to government hospitals for medical assistance. All I have to do is communicate to the Speaker and the chairman of the House appropriations committee, who will endorse my projects to the DBM,” he said.
But he pointed out that this is not the case insofar as the minimum P50-million worth of infrastructure projects for every district is concerned, so it should not be considered as part of the congressional pork barrel.
The PDAF allocates P70 million for each House member and P200 million for each senator.
In his 2011 budget proposal, President Aquino reflected the full amount of PDAF at P24.8 billion, more than P14 billion more than this year’s P10-billion level.
That is because the smaller PDAF this year holds only the funds for the so-called “soft” projects of senators and congressmen like educational, livelihood and medical assistance. Funds for the “hard” projects are hidden in the budgets of infrastructure agencies like DPWH.
Additionally, lawmakers have budgetary insertions, euphemistically called “congressional initiatives.”
Mr. Aquino decided to reflect the full amount of PDAF in the 2010 budget to discourage budgetary insertions.
Not designed to please lawmakers
Malacañang, on the other hand, said it is still checking the details of the alleged increase in lawmakers’ 2011 pork barrel allocations.
Presidential Communications Operations Office Secretary Herminio Coloma said the way he understood it, the districts that would be in need of more infrastructure projects would be given the additional allocations.
Coloma said it was not as if the Palace was trying to make every lawmaker happy so they would look the other way and not question the lump sum allocations proposed by Malacañang.
He said the statements on the supposed increase in the PDAF were different and thus the Palace would have to verify first with concerned officials.
Budget Secretary Abad is in Washington while Public Works Secretary Rogelio Singson is in Tokyo, both on official business.
Deputy presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte also said they would have to reserve comment until all the details were verified.
“We are still trying to confirm this with (Public Works Secretary Rogelio) Singson. The Department of Public Works and Highways was mentioned... that allocation will come from that agency. We have not been able to reach Secretary Singson, he is in Japan," she said over radio station dzRB.
Abad said it would mean increasing allocations but not equally across the board as this would not address their issue of equity.
“Before I left, the agreement I made with the House leadership was to review the infrastructure allocation to make it equitable as some districts were getting much, much more than the others,” he said in a text message.
“I have not been told that this has changed.”
Abad said he would meet with House appropriations committee chairman Joseph Emilio Abaya and Sen. Franklin Drilon, Senate finance panel head, to discuss the matter as soon as he gets back from the United States.
Jess Diaz, Philippine Star