Palace eyes new system; critics tag it same dog
President Benigno Aquino III reversed his stand on pork barrel Friday, saying it was time to abolish it, but critics said he was only changing the name of the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) and paving the way for a “new mechanism to steal taxpayers’ money.”
In the face of growing public outrage over the misuse of public funds, President Aquino said at an impromptu press conference at the Palace that it was time to replace pork barrel with “a new mechanism” that would ensure congressional allocations would no longer be open to abuse.
Turnaround. Demonstrators at the Don Chino Roces Bridge in Mendiola, Manila, denounce the illegal use of billions of pesos worth of pork barrel. LINO SANTOS
“Despite the reforms we have implemented, we have seen, as the events of the past weeks have shown, that greater change is necessary to fight against those who are determined to abuse the system. It is time to abolish the PDAF,” said Mr. Aquino, who was flanked by Senate President Franklin Drilon and House Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr.
“Now, we will create a new mechanism to address the needs of your constituents and sectors, in a manner that is transparent, methodical and rational, and not susceptible to abuse or corruption,” the President added.
But Bayan Muna Rep. Neri Colmenares dismissed the move as a superficial change in name.
“The President is just transforming the PDAF into an itemized pork barrel. It’s just a new name and a new mechanism to steal public funds,” Colmenares said.
Lawyer Harry Roque described the new mechanism as “the same dog with a different collar” as he urged Filipinos to push on with the Million People March protest gathering on Monday.
“It was CDF (Countrywide Development Fund), then PDAF. They will call it another name but it will still be pork. See you in Luneta still,” Roque said in his Twitter post.
Mr. Aquino said every congressional funded project will have seven safeguards against corruption:
Projects to be funded will come from a specific menu of qualified projects;
Projects cannot include consumable soft items such as fertilizers, seeds, medicines, medical kits, dentures, funding for sports fests, and training materials, among others;
Projects cannot be temporary infrastructure and neither can they be dredging, desilting, re-graveling, or asphalt overlay projects;
Funds cannot be disbursed to non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and certain government-owned and/or -controlled corporations such as ZREC (ZNAC Rubber Estate Corporation) and NABCOR (National Agribusiness Corporation) which will now be abolished for being “notorious for anomalies and which seem to serve no other purpose aside from being instruments of corruption;”
Funds must be limited to the district or sector of the legislator who sponsored it;
All items will be subject to open and competitive bidding, with all bid notices and awards posted in the Philippine Government Electronic Procurement System; and
Each item will be disclosed in the website of the Department of Budget and Management and the National Data Portal of the government.
“I have tasked Budget Secretary Florencio Abad to consult with Speaker Belmonte and Senate President Drilon to craft this mechanism, and to submit it for my approval as soon as possible. We are all committed to putting this in place so that, moving forward, allocations per district will be included in the national budget, starting with the proposed budget of 2014,” Aquino said.
The President said lawmakers can identify and suggest projects for their districts.
Once approved, the projects will be earmarked as line items in the budget, he said.
“In this way, they will be enacted into law as part of our national budget—every line, every peso, and every project open to scrutiny, as with all other programs of your government,” Aquino said.
Aquino said pork barrel, established during the term of his mother, the late President Corazon Aquino, was not “intrinsically wrong.”
Mr. Aquino again blamed his predecessor for problems that have persisted during his term.
“What is wrong–indeed, what has outraged our people—was the collusion among a former President ready to trade favors just to remain in power, legislators, and members of the bureaucracy who were willing to conspire, enabled by a passive and indifferent citizenry. All these factors put together make the PDAF prone to abuse. We need to make sure the system can no longer be abused,” he said.
In a separate interview, Belmonte said he will prod his colleagues to submit their proposed projects this early.
“Even if we have to meet more than the usual number of days, we will do just so we can put in place this new mechanism by the end of the year,” the House Speaker said.
“I believe we can live with it (no more PDAF),” Belmonte said, even as he acknowledged that he expects some of his colleagues were “mad” about the reforms.
The President also said he will keep a close eye on the government agencies tasked to investigate and prosecute lawmakers and other individuals involved in the misuse of pork barrel funds.
“I would rather see a conviction under my term. But we are realistic and we are pushing for judicial reforms so we can expedite the process,” the President said.
“I will be on their case, especially for those under the Executive branch. The Ombudsman and the Commission on Audit are independent constitutional bodies but we will appeal to them to hasten the process so we can set an example,” Aquino said.
The President also expressed confidence that the movers and supporters of the Million People March are his allies when it comes to the issue of pork barrel.
“Why should I be afraid? It only shows our allies in reforming the system are growing in number. So thank you to them,” Aquino said.
Senate Minority Leader Juan Ponce Enrile said he would support the abolition of pork only if all such allocations and lump-sum appropriations of all departments are scrapped.
Enrile also said the Commission on Audit incorrectly attributed to him P325 million in pork barrel allocations.
The COA earlier this week released a report showing that some P6.2 billion in pork barrel had been transferred to questionable non-government organizations from 2007 to 2009.
Of the P6.2 billion, P332.7 million allegedly came from Enrile’s PDAF.
In a press briefing, Enrile told reporters that if the pork barrel is scrapped, it must be totally scrapped.
“We should not only look at scrapping the PDAF but include the various ‘pork barrel’ or lump sum appropriations of all departments of government under the General Appropriations Act,” said Enrile.
He acknowledged that the public is justified in its outrage over the P10 billion pork barrel scam and urgent calls to abolish the pork barrel, which was restored in 1989.
COA also disclosed last week that 10 NGOs linked to businesswoman Janet Lim Napoles received P2.157 billion in pork barrel between 2007 and 2009.
Napoles, the alleged mastermind of the pork barrel scam, has been declared a fugitive from justice after she went into hiding to avoid arrest.
Enrile said he is ready to face any investigation by the Senate and by the Executive and be prosecuted “if anyone can prove I financially benefited from the unscrupulous and illegal schemes of criminal syndicates whether masterminded by Ms. Janet Lim Napoles or her ilk and her cohorts in or out of government.”
“The dark cloud of suspicion that I have been a party to this large-scale robbery of public coffers is most unfortunate. The ongoing investigation and subsequent prosecution based on evidence as directed by the President is a welcome opportunity for me to clear my name and that of my office,” he said.
“If any of my PDAF or pork barrel funds can be proven to have gone to my own pocket, I am ready to surrender whatever assets I and my family own, any or all of it if they want.”
“If I were to choose something of value to leave to my family when I depart from this world, I would choose to leave honor and a good name, nothing else,” the 89-year-old senator said.
He said the pork barrel amounts attributed to him are “distorted and misleading” because they came from missing and incomplete Budget Department records.
He said both houses of Congress including the chairs of the House appropriations committee and Senate committee on finance are allocated additional amounts over and above their regular allocations for PDAF.
Each senator gets P200 million in pork a year while congressmen are allotted P70 million each annually.
In further disputing the COA report, Enrile pointed out that the amount of more than P325 million attributed to him were actually from several senators who asked for his endorsement when he was still the Senate president.
He said those who asked for his endorsements were incumbent Senators Francis Escudero (P20 million); Jinggoy Estrada (P50 million); Lito Lapid ((P42 million); Loren Legarda (P33 million); Miriam Defensor Santiago (P50 million); and former senators Rodolfo Biazon (P20 million) and Manuel Roxas II (P20 million); and congressmen who were members of the Commission on Appointments (P90 million).
“The above-mentioned legislators merely requested my endorsement as then Senate President for the release of funds for the various projects under their own PDAF,” Enrile said. With Macon R. Araneta and Maricel V. Cruz