• Aquino firm: ‘Pork’ stays

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    President Benigno Aquino 3rd is not giving in to calls to scrap the pork barrel system despite the irregularities that have been linked to it.

    There are calls from some legislators for the President to remove the P27-billion allocated for their Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) in the proposed P2.268-trillion national budget for 2014.

    But on Friday, Palace deputy spokesman Abigail Valte said the President has no plans of doing away with the pork barrel allocation.

    “The President believes in theory that the PDAF can be used for the correct reasons,” Valte said.

    She cited the importance of PDAF to the local community where the legislators can use the funds to address the needs of their constituents.

    ”The national government cannot be everywhere at once,” Valte said, and the pork barrel is the best way to “bring these concerns to the attention of the national government.”

    “The job of the national government really is to look at the macro concerns. The local governments should look at micro concerns,” Valte said.

    The PDAF “is really the share of the constituents in the budget,” she added.

    Valte also shrugged off a proposal to scrap the Presidential Social Fund (PSF), which is the President’s own pork barrel, saying it is valuable in helps provide medical aid to the families of wounded or deceased soldiers.

    She assured that the PSF is subject to a “very strict process” to shield it from anomalies.
    ”The use of that particular fund is very transparent,” Valte said.

    Sen. Miriam Santiago wants the pork barrel funds phased out starting next year until 2016.

    But her colleagues in the Senate are lukewarm to proceeding with an inquiry into alleged irregularities in the lawmakers’ use of their PDAF.

    Senate Minority Leader Alan Peter Cayetano said on Friday that the proposal to look into the supposed P10-billion scandal involving the allocation of P10 billion of the PDAF to bogus non-government organizations is unlikely to push through.

    Aside from the fact that the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) is already conducting its own probe, a Senate inquiry could disrupt legislative work because some senators have been implicated in the scandal, Cayetano said.

    The Senate leadership has complete trust in the NBI, although the bureau must finish its findings immediately to the Office of the Ombudsman, he said.

    Sen. Francis Escudero, who filed a resolution asking the Blue Ribbon committee to investigate the alleged PDAF irregularities, insists that the Senate investigation will be different from that of the NBI.

    In the Senate inquiry, the testimonies will be made under oath, and the public can witness the entire investigation, Escudero said.

    But Cayetano said the Department of Justice (DOJ) can also allow the hearings or investigation to be televised.

    “This is the solution, we just have to ask the DOJ or the Office of the Ombudsman to allow full and complete media access on the hearings,” Cayetano said.

    What the NBI needs to do is finish its investigation and submit the findings to the Ombudsman before Congress starts to deliberate the 2014 proposed budget.

    “Some of the personalities that have been mentioned have large influence on the DOJ and NBI because if their involvement on the budget preparation. That is why the NBI needs to finish its probe and submit their finding to the Ombudsman,” Cayetano said.

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