MALACAÑANG seemed to have found a way to skirt previous Supreme Court (SC) rulings on the unconstitutionality of the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) or pork barrel and the Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP) by seeking a P22.47-billion supplemental budget, which would include funds for projects that were earlier halted.
On Tuesday, Budget Secretary Florencio Abad Jr. announced that they had presented the proposed additional budget to the House of Representatives to address urgent funding requirements for priority infrastructure, socioeconomic and rehabilitation and reconstruction projects. But only a portion of the additional budget would be spent on ‘pork’ projects, it was clarified.
The House appropriations panel approved the proposed P22 billion supplemental budget for 2014 on Tuesday through a 10-2 vote.
In a statement, the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) said part of the proposed allocation will cover obligations that were acquired through PDAF and DAP.
“The P22.47-billion supplemental budget will also address valid obligations incurred by the National Government on completed or commenced projects under the [PDAF] as well as approved projects supported by the [DAP] that need implementation,” the DBM added.
The PDAF was declared unconstitutional by the High Court late last year while the DAP suffered the same fate in July this year, when the SC ruled that parts of the program were not in accord with the Charter and, therefore, illegal.
But Abad believed that the SC rulings apply only to the disbursement program, not to the various projects bankrolled by so-called pork funds that he said are all legal.
“Though the enactment of both programs was halted by the Supreme Court, these projects [funded by ‘pork’]were not ruled illegal by the High Court,” he maintained.
“We crafted the proposed supplemental budget under the principles of transparency and accountability under President Aquino’s tuwid na daan [straight path advocacy]. But we were also guided by the High Court ruling advising us to resort to a supplemental budget to support priority projects not funded by current or future General Appropriations Acts [GAAs],” the Budget chief said.
The supplemental budget also includes some P715 million as additional fund for the SC.
Last week, Malacañang spokesperson Edwin Lacierda explained that the High Court sought the additional funds for its e-government project but some critics suspected that the funds could be a “bribe” for the judiciary to go easy on the DAP.
The Manila Times had reported that the SC had already junked the motion for reconsideration filed by the government on its previous ruling against the disbursement program. The court will tackle the ruling on January 13, 2015.
Abad has initially asked for a P23-billion supplemental budget but it was trimmed to P22 billion because the allocation for Manila’s hosting of the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in 2015 was scrapped.
“This supplemental budget is mainly for payment for the government obligations from the DAP and PDAF-funded projects and shield us from lawsuits. If the items [in the supplemental budget]will be changed to pay for the DAP or PDAF projects, then that can be done,” Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr. said in a news conference.
Abad told the House appropriations panel headed by Davao City Rep. Isidro Ungab that while at least P80 billion has been allocated for Typhoon Yolanda repair and reconstruction efforts under the 2014 budget’s unprogrammed fund or the money coming from government revenues, such allocation can only be tapped by March 2015.
Of the 26 projects that will be funded by the P22-billion supplemental budget, 10 were previously funded by the DAP. These include the P199 million for procurement of the 33 firetrucks for the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, P2.8 billion for the Operational Transformation Plan for the Philippine National Police, P5.2 million for the transfer of Quezon City Prosecutors and Public Attorney’s Offices, P300 million for Digi-E-fund/ICT Hardware of the government, P240 million for the completion of the development assistance to Quezon province, P250 million for the Completion of the Legislative Library and Archives, P977 million for Light Rail Transit Line 1 and Line 2 Rehabilitation, P286 million for implementation of the North Triangle Relocation Project, P340 million for the Coconut Scale Insect Emergency Action Plan and P196 million for the construction of fishport, lighthouses and seawalls.
The budget measure will now go to the plenary.
The Aquino administration has disbursed P54.7 billion for Yolanda aid efforts, including P6.24 billion from the P14.6 billion supplemental budget for 2013 and P4.3 billion from 2014’s Quick Response Fund of various agencies.
“The list of projects for the additional funding of the supplemental budget will be mostly, if not all, for the Yolanda rehabilitation and reconstruction projects. There is a long list of projects for Yolanda efforts that we need to raise funds for,” Abad told lawmakers.
Besides projects funded under PDAF and DAP, the supplemental budget will shoulder urgent projects like the housing component required by the Comprehensive Recovery and Rehabilitation Plan (CRRP) for Typhoon Yolanda, which was approved only in July.
Though P11 billion of the funding requirement for housing was covered by the 2014 National Risk Reduction and Management Fund and released to the National Housing Authority, it would still draw P8 billion from the supplemental budget for a total of P18.9 billion as required by the CRRP.
The Department of Social Welfare and Development will receive P1.94 billion to update their National Household Targeting System for Poverty Reduction. Also known as Listahan, this is a nationwide database of the poor who urgently need support, especially those affected by Yolanda.