But quick to say it’s voluntary
The Palace on Thursday challenged lawmakers to voluntarily give up their pork barrel but said it would not impose on them to do so, even in the midst of a P10-billion scandal over ghost projects and kickbacks.
“That is the call of each and every solon,” said presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda. “Senator Panfilo Lacson did it. Is it something that is worth emulating? That is the call of each and every legislator.”
Lacierda said it was also up to Congress to decide on the fate of the P27 billion in Priority Development Assistance Funds or PDAF in the proposed 2014 national budget.
“The budget is going to be submitted to Congress. Now, whatever the final form is will be subject to discussions or deliberations in the House and the Senate,” Lacierda said.
He said the Palace would not impose on lawmakers so as not to be accused of intruding on their prerogative.
An administration ally, Senator Franklin Drilon, earlier suggested the abolition of the pork barrel following accusations that lawmakers channeled funds to dummy non-government organizations for ghost projects in exchange for kickbacks.
But Drilon quickly dialed back his suggestion, and said the funds should instead be used to help indigent patients and to build schools.
Leftwing lawmakers from the Makabayan bloc in the House of Representatives have already filed a bill seeking to abolish the PDAF and welcomed the challenge from the Palace.
Bayan Muna party-list Rep. Neri Colmenares said he hoped the challenge would spur his fellow lawmakers to pass a law to abolish the PDAF or pork barrel.
“We call on like-minded legislators in the House to support our bill. We urge members of the Senate to file a counterpart measure,” Colmenares said.
He also renewed his call to President Aquino to no longer allocate any funds for the pork barrel in subsequent budgets submitted to Congress.
But incoming Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr. said it would be impossible for legislators to provide the much needed basic services for their constituents without the pork barrel.
“I am against the abolition of PDAF. We have our own constituents, unlike senators whose constituent is the whole nation,” Belmonte said.
He also said that it was premature to jump to conclusions over the pork barrel scam.
“Let us find out first what happened,” Belmonte told the Manila Standard.
Senator Grace Poe, who ran on the administration ticket last May, rejected the call to abolish the pork barrel, saying it was an opportunity for senators and congressmen to bankroll their advocacies that would help people.
She added that there would always be the temptation to misuse the budget, not only the PDAF, and that the solution was greater transparency.
Poe also supported Senator Francis Escudero, who urged the Senate to conduct an investigation in parallel with an ongoing probe by the Justice Department into allegations that some lawmakers funneled about P10 billion in pork barrel to a bogus non-governmental organization for ghost projects in return for kickbacks.
Senator Cynthia Villar said the Commission on Audit should also be included in the investigation for failing to spot the anomalies in the use of the pork barrel.
From the opposition, Senator Nancy Binay also rejected calls to abolish pork barrel, saying the funds would benefit the poor.
“ The bulk of my PDAF will be allocated to medical assistance,” she said.
Drilon said there was no need for a law to abolish PDAF – simply excluding it in future budgets would accomplish the same thing, as long as both chambers of Congress agreed to do so.
Budget Secretary Florencio Abad said the 2014 proposed PDAF stood at P27 billion, the same amount allocated this year, and added that reforms had been undertaken to ensure the transparency in its use.
The menu of projects that can be funded by pork barrel was also limited to ensure that the projects “hews closely to priorities of the administration,” Abad said. With Maricel V. Cruz and Macon Ramos-Araneta