Senate pork now part of Aquino’s calamity fund
Senators agreed in a caucus Tuesday to a proposal by Senate President Franklin Drilon to channel their remaining pork barrel allocations to the calamity fund of President Benigno Aquino III.
Nobody among those at the caucus opposed the transfer of funds, as proposed in a resolution filed by Drilon, who said the savings from the unspent pork barrel could augment the President’s P7.5 billion calamity fund.
Protest. Members of the women’s group Gabriela gathered in front of the House of Representatives on Tuesday to slam the pork barrel system,even as the lawmakers prepared to enact the National Budget for 2014. Manny Palmero
Drilon’s resolution states that “the Executive Department will use the remaining pork barrel funds for 2013 to help the victims of earthquake, typhoons and the Zamboanga City crisis.”
Drilon said the unused portion of the Priority Development Assistance Fund, as pork barrel is called, was waived by the senators and became savings that the government can use to help victims of calamities.
Before agreeing to use the pork barrel, Senate Minority Leader Juan Ponce Enrile and Senator Ferdinand Marcos Jr. pointed out that the Supreme Court had issued a temporary restraining order against the disbursement of the funds until the justices have settled the legality of PDAF.
But Drilon said the TRO would not be a hindrance, since the funds would be disbursed as part of the calamity fund, and not as pork barrel.
He added that savings generated out of the non-release of the PDAF can be used to augment the calamity fund.
Senator Francis Escudero saw nothing wrong with the move.
“It’s up to the courts to decide later on should someone file a petition to determine if indeed this is covered or not by the temporary restraining order issued by the Supreme Court.,
Escudero said it was not for him to decide whether the realignment of funds was legal.
“There are many fond of filing charges in court. Let the court say whether it is legal or not. Our intention here is clear—to allocate funds to those ravaged by calamities and it’s in the resolution filed,” he said.
Escudero, Drilon, Enrile and Senator Teofisto Guingona III said they supported the abolition of pork barrel.
Guingona admitted, however, that future Congresses can bring back pork barrel if they want even it is removed from the General Appropriations Act.
The Supreme Court said Tuesday that it will meet Friday to discuss a petition from a lawmakers to stop the Palace from using the Disbursement Acceleration Program to fund relief and rehabilitation efforts in the Visayas provinces devastated by last week’s 7.2 magnitude earthquake.
In a press conference, Court spokesman Theodore Te said the magistrates will conduct a special en banc session to tackle the urgent motion filed by former Iloilo congressman Augusto Syjuco Jr.
Syjuco is one of five petitioners who have asked the Court to declare the DAP illegal and unconstitutional.
He filed the motion after Budget Secretary Florencio Abad announced that the government intends to use DAP funds to help the victims of the earthquake because the calamity and contingency funds are almost depleted.
Syjuco said the Budget Department website reveals P6.95 billion remaining in the calamity fund, rebutting Abad’s claim.
In the House, Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr. on Tuesday maintained that the House of Representatives will stick to its decision not to re-align their pork barrel allocations, pending the Supreme Court’s ruling on the legality of PDAF.
At the same time, Belmonte said he respected the wish of the senators to give up their pork barrel totally.
Unlike congressmen, Belmonte said, the senators do not have direct constituents.
“Congressmen have specific districts and constituents who expect to be helped,” Belmonte told the Manila Standard in a text message.
“I do not understand why senators have PDAF in the first place,” Belmonte added.
Under the 2013 national budget, each congressman receives P70 million PDAF and the senators were allotted 200 million.
Public pressure to abolish PDAF grew strong, following reports that billions of pesos in public funds were diverted to bogus projects and crooked politicians.
Davao City Rep. Isidro Ungab, chairman of the House committee on appropriations, said Congress can approve the proposed 2014 national budget with the House and the Senate having their own versions on the provision on pork barrel.
“We give due courtesy to each others’ budget. We give the senators leeway to do what they want to do with their budget since their constituents are national in scope,” Ungab said.
Ungab said it was possible that the House and the Senate would have different versions on the pork barrel provision. – With Maricel V. Cruz and Rey E. Requejo