It may be a life that is not as “happy” as it used to before the P10-billion Napoles pork barrel scam, but a life that is more meaningful, focused, and productive . . . a life that we can truly call public service. After all, it is public service that senators and congressmen had sworn to do.
While the pork barrel funds are kept in the P2.268-trillion budget for 2014 that the House of Representatives approved on second reading at dawn on Saturday, the deleted P25.4-billion PDAF has been realigned to six agencies primarily tasked to implement infrastructure and social service projects.
The Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) will get the biggest share of P9.654 billion from what used to be PDAF.
DPWH Secretary Rogelio Singson had said he refused to accept pork-funded project endorsements since 2011 because of various leakages from project identification to implementation owing to the intervention of politicians.
“The way PDAF was handled; congressmen felt it’s their entitlement. We say no whether the project is good or not,” Singson told a journalists forum three weeks ago. “What is being thought of now in the discussions with the Senate and the House is that the budget will be embedded as line-item in four or five agencies. There will be changes like, the scholars need not be endorsed by congressmen.”
According to the House appropriations committee chairman, congressmen would still be asked to propose up to five infrastructure projects each to be implemented by the DPWH and with a budget ceiling of P24.5 million per legislator.
That way, the pork barrel funds should be trimmed of the fats and cholesterol that characterized the deleted PDAF item in the General Appropriations Bill. Then, we can hold the Cabinet members handling the funds accountable if the projects end up substandard or unimplemented.
From now on, senators and congressmen ought to have a lifestyle change. They could no longer gorge on the pork barrel allocation and treat it as their own money.
Let the P10-billion PDAF scandal associated with the Napoles scam serve a valuable lesson to all of us. Let it serve to make politicians true to their campaign promises of lifting the people from poverty by crafting laws that will provide them decent livelihood and opportunities. Let it make the electorate realize that they get the government they deserve.
Let us not squander this opportunity to institutionalize long-needed reforms in public service.
We have less than three years to the next election. That should be enough time for the public to keenly observe how politicians are behaving or misbehaving. Then, judge them on election day based on their performance, not on dole outs they distribute during the Christmas or campaign season.
The next election is still 32 months away. We should not easily forget what politicians have said during their previous campaign, what they are doing now, and what they will promise again to do if they get elected to another term.
Let’s take a quick look at the statements of Rep. Ferdinand Martin Romualdez of Leyte during the 2014 budget deliberations. Romualdez, who leads a minority group in the House, said he “cannot, in conscience, accept the retention of the P1-trillion pork barrel of President Aquino in the 2014 budget without clear-cut guidelines and details on what and how will it be spent.”
“Unless the purpose is revealed, we don’t know where the money goes to,” Romualdez said.
Where was Romualdez when then President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo was impounding the PDAF of non-allies left and right and realigning the amounts elsewhere, including for projects of her allies, dole outs to supportive groups, and payoffs to local executives.
I could only wish that Romualdez stood as firm when Arroyo was prostituting not only the budget process but other branches of government as well to have her way.
Romualdez’s group was quoted in news reports as having issued a statement that said, “We cannot vote for a GAA [General Appropriations Act] which is just a parody of the ‘power of the purse’ of Congress. What we have is ‘the power of the coin purse’.”
The Romualdez bloc called for the abolition of the entire Special Purpose Fund. It also asked that off-budget items, such as the P130-billion government share from the Malampaya Fund and the P12.5-billion Motor Vehicles Users’ Charge (MVUC), be “integrated” in the GAA.
Why were they so quiet about these when they were allied with the administration?
The same questions should be asked to those in the current administration. Why were they so vocal against budget impoundment, favoritism, and partisanship when they were in the opposition, and have hardly made headway now that they are in positions to carry out changes they longed to have?
Let’s all embrace a lifestyle change.
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