VARIOUS groups are poised to hold a massive rally to denounce the Aquino administration’s revival of the so-called pork barrel funds in the national budget despite previous rulings by the Supreme Court (SC) that declared these allocations as unconstitutional.
On November 30, Bonifacio Day, at least seven groups with at least 12,000 members will stage rallies at the Liwasang Bonifacio and Mendiola Bridge (Chino Roces Bridge) near Malacanang.
Anti-pork sentiments were revived by claims made by some lawmakers that the 2015 General Appropriations Bill (GAB) and the National Expenditure Program (NEP) of the executive are “riddled with pork.”
On Tuesday, former Rep. Augusto Syjuco of Iloilo asked the High Court to halt congressional deliberations on the GAB. Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago also lambasted the government for inserting huge “pork” funds in the budget and for reinventing the definition of “savings” which, according to critics, would open the door for the continuation of the Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP) in a different form.
Around 12,000 protesters are expected to participate in the rally with the theme “Diwa ni Bonifacio, Tunay na Pagbabago!” that starts at 2 p.m. at the Liwasang Bonifacio and will end with a march to Mendiola bridge at 4 p.m.
Among the groups spearheading the protest action are the Abolishpork Movement, Pagbabago People’s Movement for Change, Volunteers Against Crime and Corruption, Babae Laban sa Katiwalian (BABALA), Bagong Alyansang Makabayan, Scrap Pork Network and Scrap the Pork Alliance.
“The proposed 2015 budget contains some P27.39 billion in congressional pork barrel funds tucked into various executive agencies while redefining the term ‘savings’ to allow the premature pooling of public funds deemed prohibited by the Supreme Court in its decision on DAP. Moreover, hundreds of billions worth of lump sum funds under the sole discretion of the President, dubbed presidential pork barrel, are also in the 2015 proposed budget,” the groups said in a joint statement issued on Wednesday.
“We are frustrated that despite high economic growth figures, poverty, landlessness, joblessness and hunger continue unabated. Majority of our people bear the brunt of high prices of even the most basic goods and utilities. Thousands have been rendered homeless not just by natural calamities but also by government policies that favor big corporate and big landlord interests over the rights of ordinary people,” it added.
Former Bayan Muna Rep. Teodoro Casino said Santiago was correct in claiming that “the proposed 2015 budget is riddled with pork barrel funds.”
“Based on the version approved by the House of Representatives as previously revealed by Rep. Antonio Tinio [of ACT party-list], pork barrel allocations for congressmen are up by 32 percent from P20.76 billion in 2014 to P27.39 billion in 2015,” Casino noted.
“This means that each congressman will get around P94.44 million in congressional pork in 2015, which is higher than the traditional PDAF allocation of P70 million per congressman,” he stressed.
Based on their own study, the militant leader said “pork” is tucked in as line item budgets in the Department of Public Works and Highways Local Infrastructure Program, P18.37 billion; Department of Social Welfare and Development Comprehensive and Integrated Delivery of Social Services, P3.64 billion; Commission on Higher Education and State Universities and Colleges Tulong Dunong Program, P2.46 billion; Department of Health Assistance to Indigent Patients, P1.76 billion; Department of Labor and Employment Government Internship Program and Tulong Panghanapbuhay sa Ating Disadvantaged Workers “TUPAD” Project, P611.7 million; and Technical Education and Skills Development Authority Special Training for Employment Program , P543.3 million.
“Just like the PDAF, these funds are pre-allocated to each district and party list group and their release are subject to referrals or recommendations by the congressmen. This discreet system is their way of going around the Supreme Court decision which essentially abolished PDAF as an item in the national budget,” Casino said.
He added that the bulk of the pork barrel goes to the executive, estimated to be around P958 billion in special purpose funds, unprogrammed funds and lump-sum appropriations whose release is upon the sole discretion of the President and his appointees.
Among the presidential “pork” items are: Budgetary Support to GOCCs, P61.3 billion; assistance to local government units, P33.1 billion; Risk Management Program, P30 billion; support for infrastructure projects and social programs, P20 billion; unprogrammed funds, P123 billion; Miscellaneous Personnel Benefit Fund, P118 billion; Grassroots Participatory Budgeting, P20.9 billion and Pamana program, P7.3 billion.
With the redefinition of savings as proposed by Malacanang and approved by the House, Syjuco claimed that the entire budget becomes the President’s pork barrel “since he will now be allowed, DAP-style, to declare billions in savings in the middle of the year for realignment to his or his allies’ pet projects.”
“Clearly, President Aquino and his friends in Congress could not help themselves in dipping their dirty fingers in the cookie jar. The big question now is, can the Senate resist the same temptation or will it also bow down to the wishes of the Palace?” he asked.