Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr. of Quezon City stood his ground on the legality, on top of fairness, of the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) which serves as the discretionary fund of the lawmakers despite the adverse opinion of Senior Supreme Court Justice Antonio Carpio.
Belmonte, also the Vice Chairman of the ruling Liberal Party, made the stance a day after Carpio said that the P24 billion PDAF under the P2 trillion budget for 2013 is unconstitutional because the PDAF system allows the Cabinet members and the House Committee on Appropriations to realign state fund—an authority exclusive to Congress.
Under the 2013 budget, each House member is entitled to P70 million worth of PDAF for the perusal of their constituents. Of the P70 million, P40 million are for infrastructure projects while P30 million are for education and medical assistance.
“It is our discretion who gets to benefit from our PDAF, but we don’t have the money with us. It [PDAF implementation] is with the government agencies, which is under the Executive. There is no realignment because the fund is proposed by the Executive and it stays with the Executive [which covers all government agencies]. I have to emphasize that,” Belmonte, a lawyer, told reporters.
Carpio made the assertions during the oral arguments on the legality of PDAF—a development that transpired after the Supreme Court issued a Temporary Release Order on PDAF releases for 2013.
“My principle is that there should be fairness and it should be legal. PDAF is such because it is a great equalizer. PDAF is assistance for the people who expect us [lawmakers]to help them in their health, education and infrastructure needs. It started with a laudable purpose and such purpose remains to this day,” Belmonte stressed.
Belmonte cited that before PDAF, only the lawmakers who are allied with the Executive were able to secure funding for their respective districts thru congressional insertions in the budget.
“The PDAF system improves the access of the small, unheard of districts and the neophyte lawmakers in the government, and members of Congress serve as lawmakers, advocates and leaders of their particular districts. We [in House of Representatives]are different from the Senators because we are accountable to a definite number of people. We have to face their concern,” Belmonte argued.
“We can’t sacrifice their studies and health. I won’t discuss it further because it might appear that we are giving up [on the release of PDAF]. We are not giving up here,” Belmonte added in closing. LLANESCA T. PANTI