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Palace told: No pork, no budget

Belmonte moves to appease solons Sixty-four new lawmakers and the minority bloc on Friday joined some House allies of President Benigno Aquino III in rejecting a bid by the Palace to seize control of their P27-billion in pork barrel next year, and threatened to block the passage of the P2.268-trillion national budget for 2014. The 64 first-time lawmakers also rejected the Palace-approved projects for their districts that were identified by their predecessors and incorporated into the budget for next year. The lawmakers also dismissed as an excuse Budget Secretary Florencio Abad’s explanation that the new system would speed up development projects because they were “as good as approved.” The Palace on Friday said the inclusion of approved projects in the national budget was not aimed at stripping lawmakers of their power to decide where their pork would go. “This is not the first time that we have worked with Congress on the menu of sorts for funding of their PDAF,” said deputy presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte. “From the time that the President assumed office, we have always been working with Congress on the projects that can be funded out of their PDAF.” Valte also denied the allegation of former House Minority Leader Edcel Lagman that the menu of projects will make Congress a rubber stamp. To prevent a head-on collision with the Palace, Speaker Feliciano Belmonte said “kinks” in the Palace plan needed to be straightened out. “This needs clarification. Certainly, I would not deprive congressmen of the right to designate their PDAF (Priority Development Assistance Fund or pork barrel) projects,” Belmonte said after members of the majority coalition protested the Palace’s move to limit their choice of projects in their own districts. Belmonte said he was worried that the budget might be delayed after Minority Leader Ronaldo Zamora, who was among the 64 new lawmakers, vowed that the budget would not be approved “without cuts” as the speaker had promised. At best, Zamora said, the national budget would be passed “with modifications.” Zamora also said they would reject the Palace-identified projects for their districts for the whole year of 2014, all of which were already printed in the five volumes of the 2014 budget that was submitted to Congress by Budget Secretary Florencio Abad on Tuesday. Zamora vowed to scrutinize every line-item in the Palace-proposed P2.268-trillion national budget for 2014. He said the Palace’s plan of centralized control of the pork barrel clearly showed the Executive’s “lack of policy” in governing pork barrel allocations. Zamora accused the Palace of adding another layer of bureaucracy in monitoring the projects and beneficiaries nationwide of some 292 lawmakers and 24 senators. “We will not allow the Executive to strip us of the powers to identify our projects. The new House members will definitely reject the projects identified by their predecessors,” Zamora told the Manila Standard. Zamora cited the case of former Isabela Rep. Rodolfo Albano, who did not submit proposals in deference to his son, Rodito, who replaced him. In his case, Zamora said, his predecessor, San Juan City Rep.-turned Senator JV Ejercito had also deferred to him and did not submit proposals of projects to the Budget Department for the district. “That is because JV and I are good friends. But what about the new congressmen who have had a bitter fight in the recently concluded mid-term polls and defeated the former incumbent congressmen? The winner would definitely not allow that his predecessor-rival identified the projects on his behalf,” Zamora said. “And what about the more than 10 newly-created districts? Who identified the projects for these districts when there are no predecessors to speak of? The Palace?” Zamora said. Zamora also asked what policy was governing the pork barrel allocations for some 58 party-list lawmakers, who did not have districts and whose constituencies were nationwide just like the senators’. Abad said there is no policy yet for the party-list lawmakers and senators as this still needed to be discussed. But Zamora said it was foolhardy for the Palace to add another layer of bureaucracy to monitor the projects for all the districts nationwide. “For example the DSWD (Department of Social Welfare and Development) already has millions of household-recipients of the controversial conditional cash transfer program and the Palace would burden them with the additional work of monitoring the projects and beneficiaries nationwide? Will the Executive engage in a hiring binge to do the monitoring? That is another bureaucratic level,” Zamora said. “If the President wanted transparency, he should institute the most stringent requirements in governing the PDAF. The national budget did not even have the details. Where are the details, the specifications? So where is transparency there?” Zamora said. Independent and opposition lawmakers led by Lakas-CMD president and Leyte Rep. Ferdinand Martin Romualdez have yet to say how they will deal with the Palace-proposed budget. Zamora and Romualdez are expected to deliver their responses to the President’s SONA on Monday. Romualdez, an opposition leader, said his speech would be a “counter-SONA,” but Zamora said his address would be be “contributions to the SONA.” With  Joyce P. Pañares
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