THE House of Representatives is set to scrap the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) for good by removing congressional discretion on the allocation of the so-called “pork barrel.” This means that lawmakers will no longer have the authority or the right to identify or propose projects for their constituents.
Representatives Elpidio Barzaga of Dasmariñas, Cavite PROVINCE and Dan Fernandez of Laguna province made the announcement in light of the lingering public outrage over the alleged misuse of PDAF being investigated by the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI).
“We [in the Majority bloc]have agreed to abolish the PDAF under the 2014 budget. Instead, it will be up to the concerned government agencies to help our [respective]constituents, especially their health and education needs,” Barzaga said during the Ugnayan sa Batasan news forum.
He said an official announcement on the abolition of the “pork barrel” funds will be made soon.
Barzaga, a member of the National Union Party (NUP) which is part of the Majority bloc in the House of Representatives, said that the Department of Social Welfare and Development, government hospitals and Commission on Higher Education, among others, which are frequent recipients of lawmakers’ PDAF, will have more control over the funds.
Prior to the expose on the alleged misuse of the PDAF which benefited non-government organizations (NGO) ran by jailed trader Janet Lim-Napoles, each House member was entitled to P70 million PDAF every year.
Under such setup, the lawmakers have the discretion on who gets to benefit or which projects need funding from their PDAF allocation.
“The decision has been agreed upon by the House leaders yesterday afternoon. We have to make the sacrifice. We lawmakers are not thick-faced. We have to listen to the clamor of our people. The discretion [on the beneficiaries]is already on the government agencies,” Fernandez, a member of the ruling Liberal Party (LP), added.
Rep. Ben Evardone of Eastern Samar, Fernandez’s fellow LP member, confirmed the majority bloc’s decision to abolish the PDAF, adding that the removal of congressional intervention on “pork” allocations will be the subject of a future official stand.
The lawmakers, however, admitted that it is possible that their constituents will not be given aid by the government agencies.
“There is really no guarantee under that system. What we can do is to appeal to the government agencies to look at the situation of our people and provide them assistance,” Barzaga said.
For his part, Fernandez said that there is a distinction between a “bad PDAF and good PDAF”.
“There is really no guarantee since we don’t have discretion anymore. The solution is that government agencies, including those who are calling for the PDAF abolition, should also consider the situation of those seeking assistance,” he added.
But Rep. Albee Benitez of Negros Occidental, also from the ruling LP, stressed that government agencies should be able to take on the challenge of catering to the needs of the legislative districts and sectors because the final call on how PDAF is spent has long been the state agencies’ responsibility.
“Remember, the legislature only recommends [projects and beneficiaries]in nature. PDAF has become the symbol of corruption and so the people want it removed. But if you take a closer look, what they are clamoring for is really the eradication of corruption. Eradicating corruption means we need to reform our institutions,” Benitez said.
Rep. Ferdinand Martin Romualdez of Leyte, a member of the opposition, welcomed the decision of the majority bloc, saying it bolsters the resolution that he filed a week ago calling for PDAF abolition.
“We are just being sensitive to public opinion and siding on transparency and good governance,” Romualdez, nephew of former first Lady Imelda Marcos, said in a statement.
The decision to do away with the controversial allocations came as the Supreme Court (SC) on Tuesday ordered Congress to explain the legality of the PDAF.
During the en banc deliberations of the SC justices, the Senate and the House of Representatives were ordered to file their respective comments to the petition filed a tax payer questioning the constitutionality of the PDAF.
In particular, Senate President Franklin Drilon and Speaker
Feliciano Belmonte Jr. were asked to answer the petition within a period of 10 days from receipt of the resolution.
The pork barrel issue reached the High Court last week after a petition was filed by defeated senatorial candidate Samson Alcantara.
Alcantara, a lawyer, questioned the nature of the “pork” funds and asked the High Court to have the funds declared as unconstitutional.
In a petition for certiorari, Alcantara, through his Social Justice Society, argued that the integrity of government funds must be preserved and the Department of Budget and Management can withhold its release to Congress.
The petitioner urged the SC to issue a temporary restraining order that will stop the release of the pork barrel funds to members of Congress.
But the 15-man Court did not issue a TRO and instead just asked Congress to make a comment.
Meanwhile, Associate Justice Presbitero Velasco Jr. inhibited
himself from the case since his wife, Lorna Velasco, is an incumbent member of the House of Representatives.
Lorna is the first nominee of partylist group Ang Mata ay Alagaan.
Since the magistrate, also the ponente of the case, has recused himself, the SC will set a special raffle of the case.
Meanwhile, organizers of the anti-pork rally dubbed ‘EDSA Tayo’ clarified that the gathering at the Epifanio de los Santos Avenue (EDSA) on September 11 has no political undertones.
Junep Ocampo, one of the organizers, said that the event is not a political rally but an interfaith gathering to press for the total abolition of the pork barrel system.
“This is an interfaith gathering open to all religions. We made it clear that this is not a call for the resignation of the President,” he explained.
Ocampo, together with co-convenor Tomas Leonor, met with Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA) Chairman Francis Tolentino on Tuesday to discuss the traffic rerouting scheme.
Ocampo said that just like the Million People March held at Rizal Park, politicians will not be allowed to speak during the gathering which will start at 6 a.m. and end at 5 p.m.
WITH A REPORT FROM RITCHIE A. HORARIO