PRESIDENT Benigno Aquino 3rd will not stop public funds from being misused even if he replaces the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) with a different system, according to the Center for People Empowerment in Governance (CenPEG).
Bobby Tuazon, director of CenPEG’s Policy Studies, said on Sunday President Aquino will “promote a culture of impunity in another form” if he pushes through with his plan to replace the “pork barrel” system with the line projects scheme.
“President Benigno Aquino is wrong if he believes he can dupe the people by saying he will abolish PDAF but actually aims to retain it by another ruse. In his plan, the congressional pork barrel will be retained in the guise of project requests by lawmakers to be budgeted under line agencies and disbursed by the same agencies,” Tuazon said in a statement.
He said the “end-users of this new scheme—which may involve bigger money—are those same legislators and fellow accomplices out to misuse these funds. It will further strengthen the president’s power of the purse in making more and more members of Congress beholden to the Chief Executive through such ‘project requests.’
“Aquino’s sleight of hand is his response to the public clamor for abolition and hides continued pork barrel allocations under so-called line projects. In the end, this trickery promotes culture of impunity in another form,” he said.
With the coming 2016 elections, it is crucial for the President to retain the congressional pork barrel which may soon undergo a “facelift,” he said. Tuazon noted that in previous elections, incumbent administrations used the pork barrel and other government resources to ensure the victory of their candidates.
“It is the height of irony that pork barrel—an institutionalized plunder of people’s money until the Marcos years—was restored under Corazon Aquino in the guise of “Countrywide Development Fund” (CDF), then renamed as “priority development assistance fund” (PDAF) under Joseph E. Estrada, and now will be retained in another form by Benigno S. Aquino 3rd —son of Mrs. Aquino—to defuse public disgust,” Tuazon pointed out.
“The fact remains, however, is that pork barrel promotes party turncoatism, concentrates power in the President, and renders inutile the Constitutionally-enshrined check and balance mechanism. The truth remains, likewise, that this patronage politics is for the mutual benefit of the President and Congress: Legislators get what they want and the presidential office is shielded from legislative scrutiny with regard to how its bigger pork allocations are spent,” he said.
Tuazon said the President’s own pork barrel, which is a lot bigger than the combined allocation for senators and congressmen, should also be abolished. He noted that the President’s “pork” “masquerades as discretionary funds, social fund, intelligence and calamity budgets, travel, and other suspicious-sounding allocations” which have been abused and misused and never been subjected to strict auditing.
Tuazon suggested that the pork barrels of Malacañang and Congress be allocated to state universities and colleges (SUCs), health programs, socialized housing, and other social services. A portion of the money can also be used to augment the Internal Revenue Allotment (IRA) of the poorest Local Government Units (LGUs) subject to transparent and stringent auditing mechanisms.
He also proposed the forming of a consultative council of citizens’ watchdogs, people’s organizations and civil society groups to participate in the planning, allocation, and auditing of the national budget, and similar councils at the local level.
“Pork barrel, seen from all angles, is definitely plunder—a heinous crime. While it steals taxpayers’ money and aggravates poor social services it fattens the pockets of corrupt political clans and other beneficiaries. Decades and billions of pork barrel allocations—and now conditional cash transfers—have not freed the people from poverty while mansions were built from the stolen money,” he added.
Lies and half-truths
Youth groups led by the Kabataan Partylist also on Sunday decried Aquino’s “lies and half-truths” on the supposed abolition of the PDAF and his refusal to give up control of his over P1-trillion “pork barrel.”
“The President’s dramatic announcement on Friday regarding the supposed abolition of the PDAF was exposed as nothing but pure gimmickry when Budget Secretary Butch Abad revealed that the fund would still remain in 2014 and the years to come; the only difference is that the fund would be itemized and already integrated in the budget of agencies,” Kabataan Rep. Terry Ridon said.
“Basically, the Palace did not really remove the PDAF—the money’s still there. Worse, it’s now under the President’s full discretion,” Ridon said.
Abad on Saturday said lump-sum funds that constitute the President’s funds which in 2014 will be over P1 trillion, cannot be simply removed because the funds allow the Palace to respond to “emergency situations.”
“Secretary Abad’s statement only reveals the Executive Department’s vain attempt to contain the current issue to the congressional pork and veer [the people’s]attention away from the presidential largesse. It is very apparent that the president wants to come out clean and evade the increasing public scrutiny over his very own pork,” Ridon said.
Former National Treasurer Leonor Magtolis Briones, the lead convenor of Social Watch Philippines (SWP), said the President’s discretionary fund needs scrutiny because the projects for which the funds are used are not as detailed as regular appropriations, making them vulnerable to abuse.
Briones said in a radio interview that Congress over the years included the President’s discretionary fund in the budget despite the fact that it doesn’t have any legal basis.
“There is no available data on how it started, it just appeared,” she said.
The President’s social fund comes from the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation (Pagcor).
Some senators said the President should also listen to demands of the public and have his own huge ‘pork’ scrapped.
Senator Joseph Victor “JV” Ejercito said Aquino should show his sincerity by leading the way in changing the system.
Sen. Vicente Sotto 3rd said the government should also do away with other lump sum allocations for some government agencies to allay suspicions of misuse of public funds.
Sen. Gregorio Honasan agreed that by scrapping all the discretionary funds of agencies and Congress government can convince the people it really wants change.
But administration Sen. Aquilino Pimentel 3rd pointed out that the real issue is transparency and accountability and public officials should provide it to the people.
Pimentel said the executive must be transparent in using the special purpose fund and if that doesn’t work, then that is the time to remove it from the budget.
WITH A REPORT FROM JEFFERSON ANTIPORDA