Belmonte chides Senate for realigning its pork without House okay
House Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr. on Wednesday branded as “pointless and just for show” the bid by Senate President Franklin Drilon and the senators to reallocate their remaining pork barrel to President Benigno Aquino III’s calamity fund.
Belmonte’s rebuff came after Drilon convened an all-member caucus to convince his colleagues to back a Senate resolution that he authored seeking to declare the unspent but impounded remainder of their Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) allocation as “savings” that the President could use for relief and rehabilitation in the earthquake-devastated provinces of Central Visayas.
‘Read my face.’ A protester shows off her body paint for a pre-Halloween costume parade at the Rajah Sulayman Park in San Andres, Manila, on Wednesday. DANNY PATA
These same funds had been impounded by the Supreme Court, which has been asked to rule on the legality of PDAF.
Belmonte said Drilon could not “realign money that is not there in the first place as it is not under the Senate’s budget.” Shortly after the Senate unanimously approved the Drilon resolution on Tuesday night, the House also unanimously approved Belmonte’s resolution “urging the President to declare the unused appropriations for 2013 as savings that could be used to augment the calamity fund.”
But the Speaker admitted that the gesture was “all for show,” and that the congressmen also wanted to show they were in favor of it.
Belmonte added, however, that the House members donated P10,000 each from their salaries to the calamity victims.
“At least we gave money from our own pockets,” Belmonte said.
With or without the temporary restraining order by the Supreme Court prohibiting the Executive branch from releasing the PDAF, Belmonte said the Senate could not realign funds without the concurrence of the House.
The Senate, he added, could not act on its own, particularly on PDAF, which was a lump-sum appropriation approved by both houses, even if these allocations were being released to individual lawmakers.
Drilon had tried to getting around the TRO by insisting that the remaining PDAF of the Senate can now be considered savings.
“There can be savings from the PDAF because of two reasons: No 1, the senators have waived their 2013 allocations for PDAF, at least a number of them have manifested, and second, the Supreme Court issued a TRO on the releases of the PDAF. Therefore, saving is created under the national budget of 2013.”
Belmonte said Drilon could not do that.
“How could you actually be reallocating or spending money subject of a TRO? I don’t know about that,” Belmonte said.
Belmonte said he also thought of realigning the savings of the House to the calamity fund since heads of departments are authorized by the Constitution and the budget laws to realign savings.
But he said his authority to realign budget items can be done only within his own department.
“Yes, you can reallocate money or use savings but that item must be in the budget of your department. It occurred to me I could not do it on PDAF even if I wanted to give the money right away. We could ot do it. It’s not a budget in the item of the House,” he said.
“The PDAF budget is lodged with the Executive for implementation but the discretion to endorse projects remains with the individual lawmakers,” Belmonte said.
Belmonte said Drilon’s resolution would only be valid if the Supreme Court decides in favor of the petitions declaring the PDAF as unconstitutional.
“If it’s not valid, what happens to the money? The money goes back to the general fund and becomes part of it. At that point, it can be like a saving under the definition contained in the General Appropriations Act. In this case, it can be used to augment the Bohol fund. That’s how I understand the legal provision,” Belmonte said.
Senators on Wednesday failed to agree on another resolution filed by Drilon which calls for the complete abolition of pork barrel.
While most senators favor abolishing pork barrel, they had their own proposals on how to go about it, Drilon said.
“We will see what happens after all the written manifestations are submitted,” said Drilon.
He noted that although there was no vote in the caucus, his assessment was that senators want it scrapped.
He also said the senators agreed to submit on Nov. 11 their written positions on how the P200 million assigned to them will be spent, whether it goes to the calamity fund, or line agencies needing additional funding.
The finance committee, chaired by Senator Francis Escudero will then consolidate the report of all the senators.
Also on Wednesday, Budget Secretary Florencio Abad said House members were allocated P24.5 million each in 2014 for local infrastructure projects under the Department of Public Works and Highways.
In a hearing of the proposed budget of the Department of Budget and Management, Abad said the item on pork barrel funds has been deleted by the House of Representatives when it approved the proposed national budget for 2014.
“But it was not deducted from the total budget,” Abad told Escudero.
He said the funds were just realigned to five programs in five government agencies: scholarships under certain state colleges and universities and the Commission on Higher Education, employment under the Department of Labor and Employment and Technical Education and Skills Development Authority, health under the Department of Health and government hospitals; assistance to persons in crisis under the Department of Social Welfare and Development, and local infrastructure projects under the DPWH.
He also said 20 percent of the funds would go to education, 15 percent to health, 10 percent to employment, 20 percent to assistance to persons in crisis, and then 35 percent to local infrastructure projects.
When questioned how much of the funds went to the DPWH, he said each congressmen was allocated P24.5 million, which appeared as line items under the department’s budget.
The Budget chief said that under education, the funds should be spent for scholarship and assistance to students.
For employment, the funds should be used for summer job programs of Labor Department while the burial and food assistance would fall under assistance to persons in crisis. With Macon R. Araneta, Maricel V. Cruz and Joyce P. Pañares