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Bishops trash pork in budget

Supreme Court starts debates on PDAF The Bishops Businessmen’s Conference on Monday criticized congressmen for keeping the pork barrel in the P2.24-trillion budget for 2014 despite President Aquino’s order to abolish it. The group made its statement even as the Supreme Court starts hearing today the arguments by the parties assailing and defending the constitutionality of the pork barrel. The high court led by Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno will first listen to the arguments of the lawyers assailing the constitutionality of the pork barrel or Priority Development Assistance Fund: losing senatorial candidates Greco Belgica and Samson Alcantara and former Boac, Marinduque, Mayor Pedrito Nepomuceno. The Office of the Solicitor General, which represents respondents Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa Jr., Senate President Franklin Drilon, House Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr., Budget Secretary Florante Abad and others, will then defend the constitutionality of the PDAF. Mary Belle Salazar-Beluan, executive director of the BBC for Human Development, said he amount originally earmarked for the pork barrel as “line items” in the budgets of five government departments, but those line items were still pork barrel funds under another name. Meanwhile, The Supreme Court on Monday was asked to declare as unconstitutional Aquino’s disbursement of public funds through the Disbursement Acceleration Program. Former Iloilo Rep. and former head of the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority  August Syjuco Jr. filed the second taxpayer’s suit seeking to nullify the DAP and asked the high court to restrain the Executive Department from further disbursing the DAP and to declare the DAP unconstitutional. He said the Constitution prohibits the transfer of funds between government branches without a law allowing it. Also on Monday, the farmers’ group Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas charged that the Department of Agrarian Reform’s accomplishment report for 2011 and 2012 showed that the P7.2-billion DAP fund funneled by the Aquino administration to the department went to corruption. The group also repeated its call for an independent probe of the controversial fund. Belmonte has previously said that while the pork barrel or Priority Development Assistance Fund has been abolished, legislators will still be able to gain access to that fund by suggesting projects to the implementing departments. Aquino has also announced that the PDAF has been “abolished,” and that non-government organizations may no longer receive government funds. The bishops on Monday reiterated their call for the total abolition of the pork barrel or other funds under other names. The BBC described the pork barrel as an abuse of the congressional power of the purse. It said it was institutionalized corruption that uses the people’s money in order to serve not their interests but the personal interests of individuals. “For the President, [it is] a means to control the legislature and bend it to his will by releasing or withholding the, funds and for the legislators to assure their victory and/or the members of their family in elections.” The bishops said the pork barrel was institutionalized dissipation of scarce government resources as explained in the Human Development Report 2012-2013. They cited many examples, such as when the same amounts were given to districts regardless of their size. “The history of the pork barrel as well as the “tip of the iceberg” COA Report on the 2007-2009 PDAF show that once the pork barrel is in place, there is no end to the greed and collusive ways to circumvent the safeguards,” the BBC said. With Rey E. Requejo and Fred Villareal
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