MALACAÑANG has released the remaining P35-million pork barrel allocation for each of the 278 house members to secure the passage of the P1.654-trillion budget for 2011 and the controversial P21-billion dole to the poor, House sources said Thursday.
Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr. confirmed the release, saying the Palace went to the extent of interceding with the Commission on Elections last week to have the elections ban on government projects lifted so that the Budget Department could release the P9.73 billion in the total pork barrel.
On top of the P35-million pork barrel, each of the 207 lawmakers present during the last day of the marathon session last week were rewarded P500,000 in operational and travel allowances, the sources said.
Belmonte told reporters that the second tranche of the annual P70-million pork barrel had been released in Special Allotment Release Orders issued by Budget Secretary Florencio Abad beginning Wednesday last week until the wee hours of Saturday.
The sessions ended at 3:14 a.m. Saturday, shortly after President Aquino’s first budget was approved on second reading via voice vote.
The quick Abad action came after 112 lawmakers from the Visayas and Mindanao moved on Oct. 7 to suspend the budget deliberations, protesting what they called the “cumbersome and too restrictive” pork barrel menu imposed by Malacanang and demanding the immediate release of their pork barrel.
The Palace immediately sent Abad to negotiate, and because not passing the budget would mean a re-enacted budget that would be P200 billion short, leaving the P21-billion cash transfer program for the poor and the P15-billion public-private-partnership program unfunded.
Abad also offered the lawmakers an extra P50 million in infrastructure projects and another P25 million from the road users’ tax, both to be taken from the lump sum appropriations of the Public Works Department.
“The only reason [the Special Allotment Release Orders] were not released earlier was because of the Comelec resolution that says it cannot be spent,” Belmonte said.
“We’ve always believed that national funds cannot be barred in the non-partisan [village] elections, and on Tuesday last week the Comelec ruled tha national funds are not covered by their ban.”
But Belmonte insisted that Malacañang set a “bad precedent” in including the 57 party-list representatives in drawing out their own P50-million pork barrel allocations, an entitlement previously reserved for district representatives.
Out of the P50 million, each party-list congressman would be allowed to identify projects up to P15 million that would be funded by the road users’ tax.
Belmonte also warned Malacañang against using the P21-billion dole to the poor as pork barrel, adding the House was planning to insert special provisions to prevent Social Welfare Secretary Corazon Soliman from misusing the dole.
Asked why the House did not opt to slash the P21-billion budget if the lawmakers doubted the Social Welfare Department’s health and education programs, Belmonte answered: “Malacañang believes they can use up all the funds.”
Belmonte also rejected a House resolution slashing to P1 the P253-million budget of peace adviser Teresita Deles.
“I am with [House Minority Leader] Edcel Lagman when he said that the agency should not be punished because of an errant head,” Belmonte said.
He said he was arranging talks between the Palace and Mindanao legislators who were felt slighted by Deles’ patronizing remarks against them, and particularly against 28-year-old neophyte Lanao del Sur Rep. Fatima Aliah Dimaporo.
Belmonte also disclosed that about 50 lawmakers had applied for permission to travel abroad during the three-week recess, including Pampanga Rep. Gloria Arroyo, who flew to South Korea to receive an honorary doctorate degree.
Christine Herrera, Manila Standard Today