• PDAF still exists: Lawmakers’ infra projects junked

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    THE Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) has rejected 12 infrastructure projects of lawmakers to be funded by the 2014 Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) or pork barrel which was transferred to the DPWH.

    Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr. made the disclosure on Wednesday in connection with the move of the House of Representatives to put P9.654 billion of the 2014 PDAF under DPWH’s discretion as a result of the P10 billion pork scam that benefited bogus nongovernment groups owned by Janet Napoles.

    With the PDAF now under DPWH, lawmakers can only recommend infrastructure projects which are site specific and useful such as classrooms, multi-purpose buildings, Level 2 or Level 3 water supply. The projects should be worth at least P2 million, can’t be funded on an installment basis and should be implemented within the budget year.

    “More than 260 lawmakers submitted their recommended projects, and Public Works Secretary Rogelio Singson didn’t allow at least 12 proposed projects because the funding is too small,” Belmonte told reporters.

    The House of Representatives has 292 members. Each lawmaker can propose projects worth P24 million in total or P2 million per project—proposals that have to be approved by the DPWH as soon as possible since these initiatives will be itemized in the proposed P2.268 trillion budget for 2014 before Congress approves it on the third reading.

    The infrastructure projects proposed by the lawmakers will undergo public bidding under the supervision of the DPWH in accordance with the Procurement Law, among others.

    “If their proposal is rejected, they have to change it to conform to the requirements. We can’t allow small-ticket projects because the bidding for a P50,000 worth of project needs just as much manpower as the bidding for a P50 million project so having small projects does not make sense,” Belmonte explained.

    The Speaker maintained that PDAF is legal.

    Belmonte, also the Vice Chairman of the ruling Liberal Party, said PDAF is “a great equalizer” because through it, lawmakers are able to help the poor who run to them for assistance.

    “It is our discretion who gets to benefit from our PDAF, but we don’t have the money with us. It [PDAF implementation] is with the government agencies, which is under the Executive. There is no realignment because the fund is proposed by the Executive and it stays with the Executive [which covers all government agencies]. I have to emphasize that,” Belmonte told reporters.

    He contradicted Supreme Court Associate Justice Antonio Carpio who said that PDAF is unconstitutional because the system allows Cabinet members and the House Committee on Appropriations to realign state funds, an authority exclusive to Congress.

    Under the 2013 budget, each House member is entitled to P70 million PDAF. However, the President suspended the system following the pork barrel scam involving Janet Lim Napoles.

    “My principle is that there should be fairness and it should be legal. PDAF is such because it is a great equalizer. PDAF is assistance for the people who expect us [lawmakers]to help them in their health, education and infrastructure needs. It started with a laudable purpose and such purpose remains to this day,” Belmonte stressed.

    “The PDAF system improves the access of the small, unheard of districts and the neophyte lawmakers in the government, and members of Congress serve as lawmakers, advocates and leaders of their particular districts. We [in House of Representatives]are different from the Senators because we are accountable to a definite number of people. We have to face their concern,” he said.

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