Senators fight for pork

Palace allies lead efforts to keep it in 2014 budget
DEFYING the growing public clamor to abolish pork barrel, senators grumbled over losing P25.4 billion worth of allocations in 2014 as plenary debates showed most of President Benigno Aquino III’s allies wanted to keep their share.

‘Have a heart.’ Some government workers trooped to the Philippine Heart Center in Quezon City on Thursday to press for the abolition of pork barrel allocations and restoration of budget cuts on legitimate expenses. Manny Palmero
“The Senate has failed to come up with a collective decision to completely abolish pork barrel,” said Senate President Franklin Drilon, shortly after senators rejected his proposal to rid next year’s national budget of the graft-tainted Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) Wednesday night.
In fact, the President’s allies in the Senate wanted all the pork barrel, including the President’s own discretionary funds, to remain intact – a far cry from the President’s announcement in August that pork barrel would no longer be found in the 2014 budget.
Their counterparts in the House, led by Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr., on Tuesday night approved on third and final reading and voting 219-23 the Palace-proposed P2.268 trillion national budget for 2014 “without cuts” and will all the pork barrel allocations “untouched.”
The House version retained the President’s pork barrel but removed Vice President Jejomar Binay’s P200 million allocation and redistributed it to the government agencies.
The House even gave the President more power to control the lawmakers’ pork barrel.
While the House members’ P70 million annual allocation will be lodged with several government agencies, the projects will be limited only to the Palace-approved menu of projects.
The discretionary powers to endorse projects remain with the lawmakers.
Senator Francis Escudero, chairman of the Senate committee on finance, on Wednesday received from the House its version of the 2014 budget.
Escudero confirmed that the House realigned the pork barrel to four government agencies as a lump sum allocation under the control of President Aquino.
The six-member Minority bloc, led by Senate Minority Leader Juan Ponce Enrile, Senators Jinggoy Estrada, Vicente Sotto III, JV Estrada, Gregorio Honasan and Nancy Binay wanted all the pork barrel, including the President’s discretionary funds, abolished, and the amount of P25.4 billion deducted from the P2.268 trillion national budget.
The minority bloc also demanded that the President’s lump sum and “off-budget” allocations be itemized in the budget to ensure transparency and accountability.
Drilon was faced with two other options to break the impasse—to either retain the Senate’s share of P4.8 billion at P200 million for each senator, or realign the budget to the four agencies, as the House did.
Senator Antonio Trillanes IV was very vocal about his wanting to keep the pork barrel, claiming he found nothing anomalous in the implementation of his projects.
Senator Alan Peter Cayetano also wanted to keep the pork barrel, subject to reforms and conditions.
Drilon gave the senators up to Nov. 11 to submit their written individual position on the controversial issue.
Drilon earlier filed a resolution to abolish PDAF and deduct the amount from the budget.
Senator Juan Edgardo Angara filed his own resolution realigning 50 percent of the Senate’s PDAF to state universities and colleges.
Senator Miriam Santiago filed another resolution calling for a gradual phaseout of PDAF.
As chairman of the finance panel, Escudero, who advocated the total scrapping of the pork barrel, vowed to push for the itemization of the President’s other lump sum appropriations in the 2014 national budget.
“There is not much change in the Palace-proposed budget to the approved House version, except for the PDAF realignment. The Senate version would be far different,” Escudero said.
Drilon said the Senate will make its final decision on what to do with pork barrel when it resumes sessions on Nov. 18.
On Thursday, Drilon’s chief of staff said there was no problem between Drilon and Belmonte, despite the Speaker’s statements contradicting Drilon on the realigning of the Senate’s pork barrel allocations for 2013.
“They [the media] just want them to clash on the pork barrel issue,” said Bantug, saying that both Drilon and Belmonte had spoken on the phone about the issue.
On Thursday, former Iloilo congressman Augusto Syjuco, who has filed a plunder complaint against Drilon, asked the Supreme Court to find the Senate President in contempt for violating its temporary restraining order on pork barrel disbursements for the rest of the year.
Drilon’s resolution urging the President to realign the senators’ remaining PDAF for 2013 to augment the calamity fund was unanimously approved by the Senate on Tuesday night.
But Syjuco said Drilon’s act was a clear defiance of the Court’s TRO. – With Macon Ramos-Araneta and Rey E. Requejo

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