Tit for tat: Govt agencies must shed ‘pork’ too, says Sotto

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IF lawmakers must give up their pork barrel, all government agencies that have been receiving lump sum allocations and additional funding must do so too, Senate minority leader Vicente Sotto 3rd said on Monday.

Sotto said abolishing the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) of senators and congressmen will not guarantee that public funds will no longer be misused.

He said his group will move to scrap the lump sum appropriations of all government agencies in the proposed national budget for 2014.

Sotto insisted that line-item budgeting be implemented in all government agencies to ensure transparency.


He lamented that the controversy has demonized members of Congress even if many legislators had “honestly” used their fund to help people in need.

“Based on what we [minority]have discussed last week, we will move for the scrapping of all lump sum appropriations of all government agencies,” Sotto said, adding that he was not convinced by the Palace justification that some allocations should be exempted from line item budgeting.

Budget Secretary Florencio Abad on Saturday said allocations for calamities or contingency funds cannot be itemized.

Senate President Franklin Drilon shared sentiment, saying the government can’t predict how many typhoons will hit the country or how many government personnel will retire in a given year.

Drilon said he is for abolishing the PDAF but maintained that a new system should be introduced so that lawmakers can continue providing health, education and calamity assistance to their constituents.

But Sotto said that instead of allotting lump sums for state agencies, they can set aside a certain amount for disasters and calamities that cannot be tapped for other purposes.

The Senate committee on finance begins scrutinizing the proposed 2014 national budget today.

Sotto said they will actively participate in the budget hearings to make sure that “everything is in order.”

It is only when the proposed budget is presented before the plenary can the minority bloc can make their move to scrap all lump sum appropriations.

“I believe that other senators belonging to the majority, particularly those implicated in the PDAF scam, will also join the call for the total removal of lump sum in the budget in order to ensure transparency,” he said.

The United Nationalist Alliance (UNA) said that apart from lump sum allocations, some government agencies are expecting additional funds on top of their proposed funding for next year.

One of them is the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG), which will get P1.9 billion more as funding for several programs that are not within the scope of the agency’s functions.

Rep. Toby Tiangco of Navotas, secretary general of UNA, said on Sunday the DILG will be getting P76 million for “climate change adaptation,” P573 million for “potable water supply” for waterless municipalities and barangays and P1.25 billion for housing for informal settlers in Metro Manila.

Rep. Elpidio Barzaga of Cavite, an ally of the President, said the PDAF must be scrapped to restore the people’s trust on legislators.

“We should focus on our Constitutional duty of crafting laws,” Barzaga, chairman of the Committee on Games and Amusements, said.

A member of the House is entitled to a PDAF of P70 million every year and a senator, P200 million.

“The people have already spoken and we have heard their voice,” Barzaga added.
Rep. Luz Ilagan of Gabriela on Monday called on Aquino to certify as urgent House Bill 1535, which seeks to get rid of the PDAF and the President’s discretionary funds.

“The public continues to see through Aquino’s superficial responses to the clamor against the pork barrel with his adamant retention of various lump sum and discretionary funds accessible to the Office of the President and the attempts to repackage or reform the PDAF for legislators and cabinet executives.

President Aquino should display political will and make the sacrifice by making House Bill 1535 abolishing the pork barrel and the President’s discretionary funds urgent,” Ilagan said.

She said the pork barrel of the President and lawmakers can be realigned to basic social services such as healthcare, education and housing.

Rep. Barry Gutierrez, a neophyte, agreed with Ilagan, noting that the President should set a good example by letting go of his own pork barrel and subjecting his fiscal powers over the national budget to strong regulations.

“President Aquino’s statement was courageous as it went against his political interest.

Now, we urge him to go beyond courage and sacrifice for the greater good of the people by scrapping all forms of pork barrel including his,” Gutierrez said.

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