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House skips scrutiny of PNOY's pork

THIRD FORCE ASKS:  HOW will MONEY BE SPENT? The Independent Bloc in the House of Representatives has protested the P1-trillion ‘pork barrel’ of President Benigno Aquino III for being retained under Special Purpose Funds in the House-approved version of the 2014 General Appropriations Bill. Also known as the Third Force whose members include party-list lawmakers, the group’s leader Leyte Rep. Ferdinand Martin Romualdez expressed dismay  over the failure of House leaders to get into the nitty-gritty of the ‘presidential pork.’ The House, in a viva voce voting (voice voting) approved on second reading at dawn Saturday the 2014 national budget, which retains provisions on lump-sum allocations for the executive agencies, including the Office of the President. Romualdez was among the several congressmen who voted ‘no’ to the approval of House Bill 2630 or the budget bill. He demanded that the President’s Special Purpose Fund  be abolished, along with the much-maligned pork barrel or   priority development assistance fund. In a statement, Romualdez said that his group could not, in conscience, accept the retention of the P1-trillion pork barrel of President Aquino in the 2014 budget “without clear-cut guidelines and details on what and how will it be spent.” Speaker Feliciano Belmonte ealier  defended the use of the “presidential pork”, saying that it must be left untouched so that President Aquino can respond to  calamities  and other unforeseen events like the Zamboanga siege. “It’s difficult to identify what contingencies, what the situation will be on the ground. Common sense dictates that it (should) be untouched,” Belmonte said. The Third Force however was not buying Belmonte’s explanation. “Unless the purpose is revealed, we don’t know where the money goes to,” Romualdez said. Aquino’s pork barrel is almost 50 percent of the proposed P2.260-trillion national budget for 2014, he said. While Section 2 of the GAB talks about “performance informed budgeting,” Romualdez said the PSPF, considered as a lump sum appropriation, does not give full ‘information’ about its transparency. “How then can the GAB be called performance informed budgeting,” Romualdez stressed, saying lawmakers should push for more transparency and accountability in the disbursements of funds before Congress votes for its third and final reading approval. Romualdez pointed out that transferring the PSPF to line agencies would ensure that expenditures would be audited annually, unlike now wherein the latest audit report for it is way back in 2009. “For example, the calamity fund can be transferred to line agencies directly involved in disaster prevention, mitigation and preparedness as provided for in R.A.9729. The E-governance fund of P2.4 billion can be transferred to agencies tasked with enhancing the use of technology. The school building program can be transferred directly to DepEd (Department of Education),” Romualdez said in behalf of the independent bloc. Commenting on claims by the government that the P25.2 billion PDAF, which is part of the SPF, has been abolished and transferred to different agencies through line item budgeting system, he pointed out that it’s less than 10 percent of the total SPF of P310 billion. The group also demanded the integration of ‘off-budget’ items in the national expenditure of the government into the GAB. These include  the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation (Pagcor) and Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office (PCSO) contributions to President’s Social Fund (PSF) estimated around P2.5 billion and P2 billion respectively, the P130 billion Malampaya Fund, the P12.5 Billion Motor Vehicle User’s Charge (MVUC) fund and other direct contributions to different agencies. “The total expenditure program of the national government for 2014 is P2.268 trillion. But the proposed GAB amounts only to P1.472 trillion, leaving P796 billion as automatic appropriations. Some of the sources of off budget “expenditures which are not included in the GAB include Pagcor contributions to the Presidential Social Fund and the Malampaya Fund,” the Independent Bloc said. Prior to the approval of the budget bill, Romualdez’s group together with the House minority bloc made efforts to abolish all lump-sum funds and have it re-channeled to special funds, and that the general fund subject to congressional scrutiny as an “omnibus individual amendment.” House Minority Leader and San Juan Rep. Ronaldo Zamora also said “we have to vote no on this budget but even as we vote no we tell our people we vote for you and your future.” But Davao City Rep. Isidro Ungab, chair of the House committee on appropriations, thumbed down such proposal. Buhay party-list Rep. Lito Atienza stood on the floor prior to the bill’s approval, manifesting that the approved budget measure did not take out the pork barrel—which is perceived as a source of graft and corruption—at the discretion of lawmakers. Atienza said the fact that lawmakers are still allowed to dictate on infrastructure projects supposedly for their constituents indicate that pork barrel still exists. “Are we and the nation assured that this budget that we are about to act on is genuinely rid of the despicable pork barrel or Priority Development Assistance Fund as it was identified in the originally proposed budget,” Atienza said on the floor, addressing his manifestation to House leaders before the voting on the budget bill. This developed as a House panel  will work double time during the two-week break session of Congress to incorporate several amendments to the proposed budget. “For the first time we will pass a budget that not only identifies the various items and objects of expenditure, but also presents the results that we want to achieve, and the major final outputs that departments and agencies must deliver according to their mandates,” Belmonte said in his closing speech after the session adjourned at around 2:30 a.m. Saturday. “The 2014 Budget is crafted as a budget for inclusive development, whatever some may say, it is for inclusive development, and can serve as a powerful tool that will help sustain the positive momentum of growth and reform that is upon us and has been with us for the past three years,” Belmonte added. Belmonte also expressed a sigh of relief over the passage of the budget measure on second reading amidst pork barrel controversy that is hounding Congress. “With the commitment and cooperation which you have showed, I expect that the 16th Congress will rise above the prevailing challenge, stronger than ever and enjoying even greater trust from our people,” Belmonte said. The small committee, under the supervision of the House committee on appropriations chaired by Ungab, will collate all the proposed amendments from his colleagues for the next year’s budget, in line with the new policy on realigned priority development assistance fund (PDAF) of lawmakers. Aside from Ungab, the small committee will also compose of House Majority Leader Neptali Gonzales of Mandaluyong, Reps. Joaquin Carlos Rahman Nava of Guimaras, Rolando Andaya of Camarines Sur and House Minority Leader Ronaldo Zamora of San Juan. The proposed amendments to the budget bill will be tackled in the plenary when Congress resumes session on October 14, thus setting the stage for third reading approval of the measure. Under the House approved version of the HB 2630 re-aligned the P25.2 billion PDAF allocation to five key agencies, with the Departments of Public Works and Highways (9.65 billion) and Social Welfare and Development (P4.71 billion) had got the huge funding. The three other agencies were: Health (P3.69 billion); Labor and Employment (P3.69 billion) and Education (P1.02 billion), along with the Commission on Higher Education (P2.66 billion).
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