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Drilon reso ‘frees’ pork

Declared as ‘savings’ evades TRO coverage Despite Palace assurances that there was enough money to rehabilitate quake-stricken provinces in the Visayas, Senate President Franklin Drilon continued to push the conversion of some P2.4 billion in pork barrel into “savings” to free the amount from the temporary restraining order issued by the Supreme Court. A resolution that Drilon filed Monday seeks the release of the impounded pork barrel to augment President Benigno Aquino III’s P7.5 billion calamity fund. “This is evasive... The Senate President has avoided the implementation of the law,” said House Minority Leader Ronaldo Zamora, who demanded to know why the calamity fund was depleted. “Where is the money? Why was it depleted? Where did the money, amounting to P7.5 billion in calamity funds, go? Why can’t the Palace account for it? We demand some answers from the Palace,” Zamora said. He stopped short of saying Drilon was circumventing the law, however. “I would say avoidance of the implementation of the law,” Zamora said. He said declaring the pork barrel – officially known as the Priority Development Assistance Fund – as “savings” would make the disbursement “no longer illegal.” “It’s no longer illegal. It has been freed from the coverage of the TRO. Because the Senate can easily say it’s almost the end of the year, we chose not to spend the money, it is intact and so it can be called savings. That is not illegal,” Zamora said. He said Drilon’s move also freed the Senate from seeking the concurrence of the House and that a mere Senate resolution would free the funds from obligations. Some senators expressed surprise at the turn of events and claimed that was not what they had discussed during last week’s caucus. “Funny. That’s not what I remember. What I agreed to was to take it out of my MOOE (maintenance and other operating expenses), from our savings, and so we can realign the funds,” Senator Ferdinand Marcos Jr. said. “The Supreme Court TRO on PDAF has not been lifted so you can’t touch those funds.” Senators JV Ejercito and Nancy Binay agreed with Marcos. Senator Juan Edgardo Angara said he would wait for the Tuesday caucus to decide. “We agreed during the last caucus that the Senate will release the initial assistance of P6 million for the victims of typhoon Santi and the earthquake in Central Visayas could be taken out from our savings. I do not have a problem appropriating it [the PDAF] to calamity-stricken areas,” Ejercito said. Binay said she approved of converting pork barrel into a calamity fund, but only if this did not preempt or antagonize the Supreme Court. Earlier in the day, the senators were in a bind as to how to free the impounded funds from the high court’s TRO. “We have not reached a consensus yet but we are studying our options. Whether or not we need the concurrence of the House or that a joint resolution was needed to make the realignment legal,” Senator Francis Escudero told the Manila Standard. Escudero said the PDAF issue will be the main agenda in Tuesday’s all-member caucus. “We have not made a decision yet. We will discuss it at the caucus, then we decide,” Escudero said. On Sunday, Drilon announced over radio dzBB that the Senate had already reached a consensus to declare PDAF as savings and that with or without the high court’s ruling, the Senate had the right to realign the funds to augment the President’s calamity funds. But he changed his tune on Monday and claimed he filed a resolution to present it to the all-member caucus and that he was confident the majority would back him since there was a basis to declare the unused funds as savings. Zamora said the House would not do the same, but continue to abide by the Supreme Court’s TRO ruling. “The House will continue to fight for our share of the PDAF because unlike the Senate, our constituents also have their most basic needs that we need to attend to,” Zamora said.    
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