Backdoor dealings current Congress norm
THE Palace is now in full control of Congress after the Executive imposed a “sky’s the limit or pork unlimited policy” for House members’ pork barrel projects, tapping even this year’s P25 billion in lump sum appropriations that the Supreme Court had declared unconstitutional, lawmakers disclosed Wednesday.
“It is business as usual here but sky’s the limit as we get more after the Palace removed the P70-million cap, except we cannot openly claim the projects as our own anymore because it is the Executive that has obtained full control and taken full credit over the projects as it wants to make it appear that we are compliant with the SC ruling,” House Deputy Minority Leader Arnel Ty told the Manila Standard.
ACT Teachers Rep. Antonio Tinio, who first exposed the anomaly, said the practice has reared its ugly head because “transparency and accountability have been completely erased.”
“Everything is done quietly. Backdoor negotiation is now the norm. We now call it hidden pork. There is no paper trail, no black and white, everything depends on how close the lawmaker is to the powers-that-be,” Tinio told the Manila Standard in a separate interview.
Tinio, who belongs to the minority, headed by House Minority Leader Ronaldo Zamora, said the seven-member Makabayan, of which, he is also a member, said the progressive bloc refused to avail of the
“unconstitutional pork barrel” after they had declared that all pork barrel, including the President Benigno Aquino III’s discretionary funds be scrapped because these breed patronage and turn Congress into a rubber stamp for the Palace.
Tinio said the “hidden pork” was working its magic following the “unusually fast progress of the Charter change resolution despite opposition from several sectors and legal luminaries.”
“The Aquino administration will rely on hidden pork to ensure the amendment of the Constitution,” said Tinio, in a press statement.
“The committee approval of the ChaCha resolution after only a few meetings is not surprising,” Tinio said. “No doubt, Malacanang has been using its wide arsenal of congressional and presidential pork to grease the approval despite heavy substantive and procedural objections to it.”
House Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr., author of the Charter change resolution, denied that pork barrel funds had been dangled to get the approval of panel members.
Belmonte said Tinio’s claim about the hidden pork was a product of “his imagination only.”
Tinio recently revealed P20.8 billion of “House pork” tucked into the 2014 budgets of six line agencies and revealed the formal and informal practices used by legislators to access it, including a form circulating among House members which serves as listing of beneficiaries identified by lawmakers.
“Such informal practices of maintaining the pork barrel system are illegal following the Supreme Court decision. Moreover, they can only persist because of the conscious and willful participation of the
President and his Cabinet,” Tinio said. “In sustaining the congressional pork barrel through hidden or informal means, Malacañang is violating the law and deceiving the public.”
But Belmonte was adamant.
“I’ve never seen it. I don’t believe it. Maybe they are the ones doing it,” Belmonte said, belying the existence of the form circulating in the House.
Tinio also found P1.8 billion of “Senate pork” in several agencies.
The 2014 budget was enacted a month after the Supreme Court struck down the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) as unconstitutional and prohibited lawmakers from post-enactment intervention in accessing agency funds.
“The administration’s hand behind the overspeeding Chacha train is obvious as its main drivers are Aquino allies,” Tinio said.
“Despite the people’s outrage and the Supreme Court decision, the working relationship between Malacañang and the legislature continues to be greased by pork. President Aquino’s record of using PDAF and other forms of pork, such as DAP [Disbursement Acceleration Program], to control Congress is undeniable. So we expect him to go all-out with dispensing pork to ensure that this unpopular and anti-people Charter change resolution breezes through Congress. Only popular opposition can stop it in its tracks.”
If enacted, Tinio said Resolution of Both Houses No. 1 will pave the way for amendments of the Constitution by mere legislation to allow foreign ownership of land, public utilities, natural resources, and media and advertising.
“Hidden pork will be used to facilitate the exploitation of our people and the plunder of our land and resources,” Tinio said.
Ty of LPG-MA said the previous practice of submitting proposals to the House committee on appropriations then to the Department of Budget for approval and issuance of the Special Allotment Release Order or SARO was no longer in effect.
“We now go direct to heads of six agencies – the departments of Social Welfare and Development, Public Works and Highways, Health, Labor, the Commission on Higher Education and the Technical Educations and Skills Development Authority,” Ty said.
“But the funds no longer have a ceiling as the appropriation was made limitless according to the districts’ needs and priorities and based on the roadmap of the national government. Everything is centralized,” he said.
However, no lawmaker could no longer claim the project as his own, Ty said.
“For example, I have a farm-to-market road project worth P130 million, which is more than the allocated P70 million per congressman. But the road traverses in two districts. In short, we are three congressmen that requested for that road and so who gets the credit? None of us would. It will be credited to the DPWH, to Malacanang,” Ty said.
This, he said, discourages other lawmakers because “everything is centralized.”
In the case of his 3,600 scholars, Ty said, the CHED has continued to fund the students’ scholarship grants.
“In state colleges, the grant was even increased from the previous P3,000 to P6,000 and those scholars in private schools now get P15,000 from the previous P3,000 in full scholarship for as long as they maintain the required grades of 85 and above,” Ty said.
As to indigent patients, Ty said their constituents continue to get medical assistance from the Health Department.
“The Palace is in control. We only have to humbly request for it and plead with the heads of the agencies,” Ty said.
“Unlike before that we only had to submit proposals to the House committee on appropriations, which would then forward our endorsements to the DBM for funding, we now had to go through the process of talking to six agencies,” Ty said.
Ty said the Speaker no longer had a say on every lawmaker’s request.
“Even the Speaker will now have to do what everybody else does -- bow to the Executive even without getting any credit for as long as we secure projects for our constituents,” Ty said.
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