Pork still coats budget

Watchdog: Lump sums get new tag

LAWMAKERS still have their pork in the 2014 budget, even though the Supreme Court has ruled that the Priority Development Assistance Fund is illegal, former national treasurer Leonor Briones said Wednesday.

Briones, the convenor of the group Social Watch Philippines, said the 2014 budget still contains lump-sum allocations that media have described as “presidential pork.”

“The challenge really is for us to remain vigilant because there are still lump sums, which are a form of pork barrel. Examples of these lump sums are the P80 billion unprogrammed fund and the P20 billionrehabilitation fund. As to how these will be spent, this was not detailed,” Briones said in a phone interview.

She said another lump sum is the P2.5 billion in scholarship funds.

“As for lawmakers, there is still pork. They just changed the name. To satisfy the requirement of the Supreme Court declaring the PDAF illegal, now lawmakers go through the motion of suggesting projects to line agencies,” Briones said.

“So lawmakers still exercise influence over projects. The small advantage here is that agencies are audited on an annual basis,” she added.

The congressional bicameral conference committee on Tuesday approved the proposed P2.264-trillion national budget for 2014.

Lawmakers said next year’s budget no longer included the pork barrel of 15 senators and Vice President Jejomar Binay.

Senator Francis Escudero, chairman of the Senate’s finance committee, said the approved budget was P3.2 billion lower than Malacañang’s original recommendation of P2.268 trillion, which was adopted by the House of Representatives.

The P3.2 billion was deducted from the four agencies where the original PDAF allocation of the senators were placed: the Commission on Higher Education, the Department of Health, the Department of Labor and Employment and the Department of Social Welfare and Development.

“This net cut represents the foregone pork barrel of a total of 15 senators and the vice president who have decided to heed the clamor of the people to totally renounce their P200 million PDAF allocation in the 2014 General Appropriations Act,” Escudero said.

Senate approval of the budget was unanimous.

Escudero said no senator opposed his motion to approve and ratify the proposed national budget on the floor.

Unlike the Senate, the House of Representatives on Wednesday adjourned without having ratified the 2014 national budget.

Speaker Feliciano Belmonte, Jr. said the House will ratify the bicameral conference committee report on the Palace’s proposed P2.268 trillion national budget for 2014 by net week.

The session Wednesday was adjourned around 5 p.m. for lack of quorum.

The 2014 budget bill was approved by the bicameral conference committee Tuesday, the quickest in history.

Opposition lawmakers led by Bayan Muna Rep. Neri Colmenares protested the lump-sum allocations under the Office of the President, however.

They included: budgetary support to government-owned-and-controlled corporations at P46.69 billion; school building program, P1 billion; e-government fund, P2.50 billion; Department of Agriculture (Farm to market roads), P12 billion; Department of Education (various items for school buildings), P44.63 billion; various infrastructure including local projects, P11.39 billion; Department of Health (Health Facilities Enhance-ment Program), P13.30 billion; and the Department of Agriculture (Irrigation fund), P5.10 billion.

But Escudero said the proposed appropriations law will require lump sum funds to be subjected to further line-item budgeting. Agencies will also be mandated to submit quarterly reports to be posted on the Budget Department’s website.

The budget includes a P100-billion lump-sum rehabilitation fund for calamity-hit areas.

Congress also created a Quick Response Fund for the Department of Science and Technology and the Department of Health which amounts to P16.9 billion, an increase of about P6 billion from the original proposal.

The budget is on top of the P100-billion fund in the 2014 national budget for the reconstruction of areas recently hit by disasters, particularly super typhoon Yolanda and the earthquake in Bohol. With Macon R. Araneta and Maricel V. Cruz



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