MANILA, Philippines—The ruling Liberal Party does not consider the additional P50 million that they were able to wring from Malacañang—to be taken from the lump-sum funds of the Department of Public Works and Highways next year—as pork barrel.
Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr. on Saturday flatly denied any “pork inflation in 2011,” saying that the controversial pork, euphemistically referred to as the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF), stays at P70 million.
Press reports Saturday said that following a threat from administration allies in the House to hold up consideration of the proposed P1.64-trillion 2011 budget over allegedly inequitable allotments, the budget department had agreed for House members to get an additional P50 million each for their congressional districts and another P25 million each from the Road User’s Tax, on top of their P70-million pork.
In a statement, Belmonte said that at an all-party caucus in the House on Friday, it was agreed that Malacañang would ensure that each district had DPWH funding of at least P50 million to be spent by the DPWH “without congressional intervention.”
Not pork at all
Belmonte emphasized that “this was not pork as congressmen will not have anything to do with its implementation.”
This meant that the DPWH would spend at least P50 million for projects in each district although some districts would get a bigger amount because there would be more projects there, he said.
“In practical terms, this meant only an additional P1.2 billion in 44 districts,” Belmonte said.
The all-party caucus was called as a follow-up to a meeting between Budget Secretary Florencio Abad and a smaller group of congressmen last Wednesday, to let everybody know what was agreed upon with Abad.
Abad was dispatched to the House to meet with the lawmakers after the Visayan and Mindanao blocs succeeded in derailing deliberations of the budget last Wednesday.
Abad promised a list of additional projects for the congressmen to be “tucked into” the so-called “lump-sum” appropriations of the DPWH.
(Lump-sum appropriations, also known as Special Purpose Funds [SPF], form a large and important part of the budget. These lump-sum appropriations are governed by special provisions and their release is subject to presidential discretion.)
The DBM also agreed to relax the rules on PDAF disbursements, allowing congressmen to tap local government units as their conduits for their pet projects or programs that can be funded from their pork.
‘Assistance to LGUs’
The congressmen had complained that the initial guidelines for the use of pork were too restrictive and wanted a return to the terms of the 2010 budget which allowed “assistance to local government units” (LGUs) without conditions.
In the follow-up caucus, the “menu” of projects that can be funded by PDAF was also increased.
A broader list of projects under the category “assistance to LGUs” was agreed upon, but all of which are easily audited, Belmonte said.
He said this promoted transparency and accountability.
On the expanded menu for PDAF, projects such as basketball courts, medical missions, feeding programs and livelihood trainings are included, said Belmonte.
But using pork barrel as intelligence fund and aid to foundations will not be allowed, he said.
“You cannot give it to the LGUs and the LGUs can convert it to an intelligence fund. It cannot be done. And everybody agrees that it cannot be done,” said the Speaker.
“Let me make it very clear that the Palace will never use the PDAF as a means of coercing or punishing any congressman whether they agree with us or don’t agree with us. Underlying all of this is the notion that we treat everybody fairly, equitably,” he added.
None for party-list
The additional entitlement will not benefit the more than 40 party-list representatives who do not have district constituencies.
“They (party-list groups) don’t represent a congressional district, but they have PDAF,” said Eastern Samar Rep. Ben Evardone.
It was the Bayan Muna and Akbayan party-list groups that disclosed the P50-million “additional pork” for every district congressman.
Evardone accused some leftist party-list groups of “twisting the facts and insinuating ill motives” to congressmen who demanded an equitable distribution of the national budget.
He said several party-list solons “want to dip their sticky fingers into the regular projects of DPWH in various districts in the country.”
“Let’s call a spade a spade—they want a piece of the DPWH pie even if they don’t have specific congressional districts. There’s no additional pork for regular members of Congress for their districts. The accusation is misleading and unfounded,” said Evardone.
“My constituency will definitely not ask a party-list representative why our roads and bridges are not being repaired by the DPWH. But definitely my constituents will demand from me an explanation why no allocation was given to the DPWH in my district,” he said.
He said congressman would have no say on what projects the DPWH would implement using the P50 million, saying the DPWH would identify the projects using a “formula and system in assessing the condition of roads and bridges.”
But Bayan Muna member Teddy Casiño disagreed, saying: “For the additional P50 million, it is now subject to negotiations between representatives and DBM.”
Evardone said the all-party caucus did not discuss President Aquino’s conditional cash transfer program, which at P29 billion forms a large part of the lump-sum funds in the 2011 budget.
Undersecretary Abigail Valte, deputy presidential spokesperson, said Malacañang cannot comment on the issue of the expanded pork issue as it wants to determine the nature of the additional entitlements.
“Right now, we want to know what budget they are talking about, which funds, the actual figure … Because these might not be pork so we can’t say that the pork barrel was increased,” Valte told the government-run dzRB radio.
“(We) want to be certain about the nature of the funds before we can make any comment,” Valte said.
Michael Lim Ubac, Phil. Daily Inquirer