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Protesters spurn PNoy

Amid his refusal to drop own pork Organizers of the Million People March against the pork barrel on Tuesday debunked Malacanang’s claim that the Aquino government was on the side of the protesters. “Mr. President, you are not on our side. We are not on the same side,” said Peachy Rallonza-Bretaña and Renato Reyes of the Bagong Alyansang Makabayan, organizers of the loose group that held a protest against the pork barrel, or the Priority Development Assistance Fund, at the Quirino Grandstand on Monday. The two said the Aquino administration does not share the protesters’ sentiments since Aquino himself does not want to do away with his Special Purpose Fund, otherwise known as the “executive pork barrel.” The protesters’ plaint, however, appeared to have fallen on deaf ears, as the Palace refused to let go of the Special Purpose Funds which stands at P957 billion this year and the P5.25 billion President’s Social Fund as of December last year. “The Special Purpose Fund, by its very name is self-explanatory. These are funds really, by their nature, could not be itemized,” deputy presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte said. Valte said that “by the very nature of some of these funds, it is obviously something to draw out of in times of need. And also, if I can point out, these funds are subject to audit of the Commission on Audit.” Valte explained that the PSF ballooned from P1 billion to P5.2 billion under Aquino’s term because of the increase in remittance from the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp. But Social Watch Philippines lead convenor and former National Treasurer Leoner Briones said the government must also abolish the SPF. “As citizens, we should also monitor the other larger lump sums. It is high time to expand the scope of our advocacy from a small portion of the special purpose fund, which is the pork barrel, to the whole SPF itself,” she added. But Valte assured the public that the President has the political will to ensure that the pork barrel will not be revived in another form that is still open to abuse. Budget Secretary Florencio Abad meanwhile, said Aquino spends only P179 million a year of the PSF compared to the P800 million annual expenses of former President and now Pampanga Rep. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. “So why scrap President Noynoy’s social fund when he has been “prudent” with it?” Abad said during the Senate’s budget hearing. In the same hearing, Abad said the Department of Budget and Management would come up with a more itemized budget for next year. Abad said they had directed all government agencies to break down existing lump sum funds by mid-October. He said the various departments must specify the projects, the location of these projects and their specific allocations. He added that the P25-billion allocated PDAF for next year should just be realigned to various government agencies. “It should be placed in agencies. The President has mentioned about possible menu,” said Abad. Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph Recto has identified an “initial 10 items” worth P96 billion in the 2014 proposed expenditures which he said must be subjected to “line item” budgeting. He added that the lump sum allocations for feasibility projects for public works “which run into billions,” the P2.5 billion “E-Government Fund”, “right-of way” payments must also be itemized. He said there is no reason why agencies can’t come up with details. Meanwhile, Finance committee chairman  Senator Francis “Chiz” Escudero said they will  decide during the budget deliberations in the coming weeks what to do with the ‘pork barrel’ funds that have already been allocated to them under the 2014 spending plate. He said the Senate could either  completely scrap, realign, or itemize pork barrel funds. Meanwhile, Senate Majority Leader Alan Peter Cayetano dared his colleagues to allow themselves to be subjected to interrogation during the probe on alleged “pork barrel” anomalies. He also challenged senators involved in the supposed irregularities in pork barrel funds to take oaths during the investigation, and to allow witnesses to ask them questions. “The senators should not also hide themselves under the Rules,” Cayetano added. Valte, meanwhile, said that the Palace had agreed to hold a dialog with concerned groups over the new mechanism that would replace the PDAF. She added that it was just a matter of finding a common schedule for Abad/ “Secretary Abad is aware of the desire of several groups for a dialog. And he does his best to engage civil society organizations,” Valte said. At least 100, 000 protestors trooped to Luneta on Monday to send the message that the “buck stops with the President.” “Why is it that the people have constantly mocked Aquino’s rebranded itemized pork? It’s because we were never on the same side to begin with and pork was never abolished,” Reyes said. Bretaña said the inter-agency probe on the scandal should be given a deadline and lead to prosecution of lawmakers linked to the scam. Bretaña also pointed out that it is not “political suicide” for President Aquino to completely abolish the pork barrel system especially since he will not be running for a second term. With  Joyce Pañares and Macon Araneta
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