TWO senators on Wednesday said they will no longer use their Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) even as their colleague filed a bill that will do away with the PDAF for good.
Senators Vicente Sotto 3rd and Loren Legarda said they will not wait for Congress or the President to abolish the PDAF because they have decided not to touch their share of the pork barrel.
“Whether they abolish it or not, I will no longer avail of my PDAF starting next year and thereafter,” Sotto said.
Legarda too said she will forego her PDAF until her term ends in 2019.
Each senator has a PDAF allocation of P200 million a year.
Sen. Francis “Chiz” Escudero, chairman of the Senate committee on finance, went a step further, as he filed Senate Resolution 193 asking the chamber to “express its sense to abolish the PDAF and its allied congressional initiative allocation collectively known as pork barrel”.
“The people have spoken and it is necessary to draw the line further between public accountability and patronage politics by being truthful to the constitutional allocation of powers and prerogatives” Escudero said in the resolution.
He noted that the PDAF, whose precursor is the Countrywide Development Fund (CDF) established in 1990, is supposed to fund projects that benefit the public. But the recent report of the Commission on Audit (COA) that billions of pesos were released to bogus non-government organizations (NGOs) had led the people to believe that the system “has mutated into a multi-billion peso racket,” Escudero said.
“The misconception that the pork barrel has become a form of ‘horse trading’ and a major source of corruption in the government is apparently starting to become real in the eyes of the Filipino people,” he said.
Sen. Ramon Revilla Jr., who reportedly allotted the biggest cut of his PDAF to questionable NGOs, supported Escudero’s bill and the planned Senate inquiry into PDAF misuse.
“It appears that the good intentions of helping the poor and spreading development to the countryside are not realized and its implementation manipulated,” Revilla said.
Also backing the abolition of the pork barrel are Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph Recto and Senator Joseph Victor Ejercito. Senators Gregorio Honasan and Juan Edgardo Angara called for a gradual phase-out of PDAF as proposed by Sen. Miriam Defensor Santiago.
Ejercito said scrapping the PDAF is one way to restore the people’s trust in Congress.
“We were elected as legislators, not as administrators. We have to be sensitive to what the people want after all we are their representatives,” he said.
Recto said the national budget would be more transparent if all projects are itemized in the General Appropriations Act (GAA).
Sen. Nancy Binay supported President Benigno Aquino 3rd’s decision to indefinitely suspend the PDAF but said she will wait for the completion of the investigations launched by various government agencies before deciding whether to back the its abolition.
Senator Antonio Trillanes 4th said only the President can abolish PDAF.
Western Samar Rep. Mel Senen Sarmiento warned that abolishing the PDAF would have heartbreaking consequences.
Each member of the House of Representatives is entitled to P70 million worth of PDAF per year.
“The abolition of PDAF will have heartbreaking consequences for a lot of poor families who are depending on their congressional representatives for their education, medical care, infrastructure support and many other things that can make life a little better for them. The PDAF system is good. It is human greed that took advantage of the system’s loopholes,” Sarmiento, the head of the House contingent to the Commission on Appointments, said.
He argued that the PDAF system would be unnecessary if the country is in an ideal situation where all people can afford to send their children to school, get medical care and dry their palay harvest.
“But the reality is that many of our constituents come to us for these things because they are poor and have nowhere else to go but to their elected officials,” Sarmiento said.
BayanMuna Rep. Neri Colmenares differed with Sarmiento, saying the PDAF system and the discretionary funds of the President should be scrapped for good because they are vulnerable to anomalies.
“The August 26 rally is the response of the people to the stubborn refusal of President Aquino to abolish pork. It is the opening salvo for bigger rallies in September, transcends political parties and should include all who wish to abolish the pork barrel system,” Colmenares said, referring to the planned demonstration at Rizal Park by various groups calling for an end to the pork barrel.