House retains presidential pork in proposed budget

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The House of Representatives retained President Benigno Aquino 3rd’s controversial lump sum funds in the 2014 national budget as the budget plenary debate ended on Friday.

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Committee on Appropriations Chair Isidro Ungab told reporters Congress cannot remove Aquino’s lump sum funds despite the many questions raised by his fellow lawmakers.

“Lump sum appropriations we have to retain it, there were a lot of questions about that. The calamity fund is really needed since we do not know how many typhoons we have to face every year,” Ungab, who represents Davao 2nd district, said.

The contingency funds were needed “because there’s a volatile situation in the Middle East,” he added.

Ungab said the equally contentious Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) has been stricken out of the budget.

Allocations for the PDAF were realigned to the Department of Health, Department of Education, Commission on Higher Education and the Department of Public Works and Highways, he said.

The lump-sum funds under Aquino’s discretion amounted to P1.3 billion, including: special purpose funds worth P310 billion, unprogrammed funds worth P139 billion and automatic appropriations worth P796 billion, in-budget line items including funds for intelligence and confidential expenses worth P1.4 billion, PAMANA funds worth P7.22 billion, conditional cash transfer Funds worth P62.6 billion, and funding for bottom-up budgeting worth P20 billion.

Kabataan Rep. Terry Ridon said the realignment of the fund did not address the ”larger problem” of the pork barrel system.

“Even if the House leadership says that Congress has abolished the Priority Development Assistance Fund –which in reality was only reapportioned and hidden in department budgets – the larger problem remains,” Ridon said in a statement on Friday.

“Most of these funds are prone to corruption, as financial oversight over such funds is minimal if not inexistent, and the utilization of the said funds rest solely on the president,” he said.

The House passed the General Appropriations Bill of 2014 (House Bill 2630) on second reading. The chamber will adjourn today and resume on October 14.

During the break, a small committee will collate the amendments and pass it on third reading.

 

JHOANNA BALLARAN

 

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