SENATE Majority leader Alan Peter Cayetano believes the P2.6-trillion national budget for 2015 contains no legislative pork, but the absence of the law allowing public access to government transaction makes it susceptible to manipulation.
Cayetano said that even if Congress has removed the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) in the 2015 general appropriations bill and prevented cross-border transfer of “savings,” there is still a need for a strong transparency law that would open all government agencies to public scrutiny.
He was referring to the proposed Freedom of Information (FOI) bill that is pending at the House of Representatives.
The Senate version of the transparency bill, which was sponsored by Sen. Grace Poe, was approved last March, but without the counter measure from the House the chances of the bill becoming a law remain uncertain.
“So even with a pork-less budget without the FOI law it is still dangerous. So I think rather than focus on the pork, which is non-existent, let’s focus on the FOI and give everyone access to government transactions,” Cayetano said in a press conference Friday.
He said that unless the FOI is enacted into law, the government budget would remain susceptible to lobbying because legislators can always find ways to intervene with government “savings.”
The Senate majority leader made it clear that the government has come a long way in so far as ensuring transparency is concerned, but a lot of things still need to be done to institutionalize transparency and accountability.
Sen. Miriam Santiago recently disclosed the existence of “pork barrel” funds in the 2015 national budget that are mostly allotted to the members of the House of Representatives who are allied with the administration.
Santiago cited the P37.3-billion lump sums appropriated to five government agencies—Department of Health (DOH), Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD), Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE), Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH), and the Commission on Higher Education (CHED).
The funds were believed to have been coursed through the agencies but it will be the legislators who will identify the projects.
Santiago said that even if project identification were done before the national budget was enacted, the mere act of allowing legislators to choose and recommend projects is already pork.
Cayetano said he disagrees with Santiago. “Mere consultations with legislators are not pork barrel because it is the job of legislators,” he said.
Asked if the 2015 version of the budget would do away with post-enactment intervention, Cayetano said there will always be legislators who will attempt to go around the process.
While there may be no legislative pork in next year’s budget, President Benigno Aquino 3rd and some members of the Cabinet still have lump sum funds, Cayetano said.
He said that by definition, pork barrel is a lump sum, and the official who has it can choose where the money will go.
He said some lump sums like the calamity fund are justified because nobody can predict how many typhoons will hit the country next year and the amount of damage they will leave.