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‘Invisible pork’ for PNoy

Kept hidden in line-item budget of agencies — Anakbayan The abolition of pork barrel and its replacement by an as yet unnamed “mechanism” has left the Palace and the ruling Liberal Party in control of an “invisible and unlimited” source of funds, critics said Sunday. Opposition and majority lawmakers who demanded the scrapping of pork – officially called the Priority Development Assistance Fund – said they were wary that Malacanang would use the P27 billion allotted to the legislators since the allocation in the 2014 budget remains intact. House Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr. immediately called an all-party caucus to explain to their members the mechanics of the now reformed but nameless PDAF. “We are taking this new policy on PDAF with guarded optimism,” said Magdalo Rep. Ashley Acedillo. “The party-list coalition would be meeting to make recommendations as to how best the funds would be used up.” Since the discretion on how the funds are used now rests with the Palace and not the individual senators and congressmen, some lawmakers who requested anonymity said the President could use it as his own pork barrel, with close allies benefitting from the “invisible” funds. Anakbayan agreed that the President’s plan to “overhaul” the PDAF would actually lead to an “expanded, unlimited and invisible” pork barrel system for Mr. Aquino. “The Aquino pork plan is an evil, deceptive ploy to bank on the people’s anger against pork barrel and corruption in order to breed an animal more monstrous,” said Vencer Crisostomo, Anakbayan chairman. “Aquino’s statement that he “abolished” the pork is doublespeak. Under his new system, the congressmen will merely have to propose their projects to the Executive and include them as line items in the General Appropriations Act instead of a lump sum allotted for them,” he said. This, for one, means greater Palace pork concentration and more pork under Mr. Aquino’s control and discretion, he said. “It is no wonder that Budget Secretary Florencio Abad was smiling when Noynoy [Aquino] announced the move for it is he and his LP friends which would have the power to screen and approve projects,” he said. “This also effectively makes the pork unlimited for Palace allies. Note that Aquino said nothing about the amount of the planned congressional pork. It is also invisible as it is now hidden in the line item budget of the various agencies,” Crisostomo said. In contrast, the President’s own presidential pork, composed of lump-sum, discretionary, unprogrammed allocations is untouched and secure. Kabataan Rep. Terry Ridon described the President’s pronouncements as “theatrical,” and said the reform he proposed was “regressive.” Instead of increasing transparency and accountability, Ridon, said the new pork barrel system that Mr. Aquino wants instituted returns the system of spoils to its moribund pre-war character. “Aquino has actually reverted PDAF back to the moribund system wherein the Executive Department has full control over the funds, while legislators practically beg for parts of the spoils. This is the system that Aquino’s great-grandfather Juan Sumulong had criticized way back in 1925, for breeding ‘misuse’ and patronage politics. It’s a clear case of history repeating itself,” Ridon said. “Under Aquino’s new version of the pork barrel, greedy legislators will flood the offices of DBM and other agencies to clinch projects. It’s the padrino system at its worst,” Ridon said. The PDAF system that allocates P200 million for each senator and P70 million for each congressman yearly was a response to the clamor from legislators for an equitable distribution of funds, he said. “This system of equitable pork appropriation was a feature that began in 1992 to safeguard against the allocation of excessive amounts to particularly favored legislators. With the reintegration of the PDAF in the national budget, we fear that the cap has been removed, thereby allowing Aquino’s KKK – kaklase, kabarilan, kaibigan – to access unlimited funds for their pet projects. This defeats the call to abolish the pork barrel,” Ridon said. Ridon said the President only made corruption “invisible.” With funds for legislators’ pet projects now integrated in the national budget, he said, the misuse of funds would be harder to detect, as the funds may now not be directly connected to the proposing legislator. “In Aquino’s speech, he said there would be real-time monitoring on the release of funds. Yet it is unclear if the name of the legislator who proposed the project will be directly associated to the projects he or she proposed once the funds are in the line item of agencies. If the names will not appear, this could only create a system of invisible, undetectable corruption, with government agencies acting as cover-ups for the malfeasance of public officials,” Ridon said. “While the President attempted to fool the Filipino people by announcing that it is time to abolish PDAF’ only to reveal a worse version, Aquino also categorically said during the panel interview after his speech and later through spokesperson Abigail Valte that he will not abolish his own pork, referring to the President’s Social Fund,” he said. “The President’s Social Fund is only a small part of the large mother lode of public funds that Aquino has direct control over. Yet he is not willing to give up even that fund. It is a hypocritical move that only proves that the President only wanted to strengthen and consolidate his hold over pork funds, and not abolish the system of discretionary spending,” Ridon said. “With the presidential pork remaining unscathed and the pork barrel system tweaked to better serve the interests of the Palace, there are actually more reasons to protest now than before,” Ridon said. “Aquino’s outright refusal to abolish the presidential pork reveals that his regime is not unlike past regimes – an administration that would go to any length to remain in power. The people deserve better than your lies and half-truths, Mr. President, and we’re determined to intensify the fight,” Ridon said.
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