At this time when most Filipinos here and abroad are outraged over massive abuses in the use of the so-called pork barrel funds by several senators and congressmen, expect politicians to engage in theatrics to gain sympathy or to create doubts about their involvement in dubious schemes.
Others have already hired lawyers and public relations experts to do stunts on their behalf.
So, don’t believe senators and congressmen who have declared in press releases and interviews that they are willing to forego their “pork barrel” allocations. They are deceiving us.
There are still a few good men though whose names are sullied because of the wrongdoings of the many. It’s not just a case of a few rotten tomatoes in a basket, but the opposite.
At most, they are merely following the line of President Benigno Aquino 3rd that the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) will be abolished.
Okay, the House appropriations committee and the Senate finance committee may be deleting the P25-billion PDAF lump sum item in the General Appropriations Bill. But the absence of PDAF does not necessarily mean that the P2.268-trillion budget for 2014 will be P25.2 billion less. The amount will simply be tucked in the budget of the various agencies.
The PDAF is the official name of the congressional pork barrel. It allocates P200 million a year for each of the 24 senators and P70 million for each of the 289 House members.
The paper being passed around and gaining signatures of congressmen said it quite clearly. The lump sum will be deleted but the money will be given to the executive agencies to which lawmakers reserve the right to recommend the beneficiaries of medical and educational assistance.
If that is the “new mechanism” that the President instructed Budget Secretary Florencio Abad, Senate President Franklin Drilon and House Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr to craft, I see no change at all from the old ways. It’s the same thing.
Simply spreading out the PDAF money among various agencies would mean the budget allocation of these agencies will increase. Is that allowed under the Constitution?
Section 25, Article VI of the Constitution states: The Congress may not increase the appropriations recommended by the President for the operation of the government as specified in the budget. The form, content, and manner of preparation of the budget shall be prescribed by law.
I remember hearing an argument on that in one of the many budget hearings I attended some years ago. The excuse was that the prohibition in the Constitution refers to the aggregate or the total amount of the budget, and not to the allocations taken separately. Meaning, Congress cannot approve a budget higher than P2.268-trillion, but can increase the P213.5-billion budget of the Department of Public Works and Highways proposed by the President.
Never under estimate the creative skills of our legislators. I covered Malacanang and Congress beats long enough as a reporter to become familiar with how lawmakers and their technical work horses can find creative schemes in crafting the budget.
In 2007, Congress cut the budget by more than P30 billion, including the appropriation for debt service by P17.8 billion – P6.8 billion estimated savings in debt payments due to the continuing appreciation of the peso, and P11 billion from interest payments to “illegitimate debts.”
What was cut did not reduce the total budget by P30 billion. The amount was simply realigned to augment the legislators’ pork allotments for health, education, agriculture and other basic services. The amount therefore went to “congressional insertions” in the budget of the different agencies.
How deceptive! The debt service, for one, is automatically appropriated. It does not go through the legislative wringer. Blame Presidential Decree No. 1177, or the Budget Reform Decree issued by then President Ferdinand Marcos in July 1977.
Section 31 of the law, which remains in force until it is repealed, provides automatic appropriations for, among others, principal and interest on public debt, and national government guarantees of obligations.
While the government, including Congress, adheres to this provision, it ought to equally observe the provision under Section 28 of the same law which prohibits “increas(ing) the appropriation of any project or program of any department, bureau, agency or office of the Government over the amount submitted by the President in his budget proposal.”
It further said: In case of any reduction in the proposed appropriation for a project or program, a corresponding reduction shall be made in the total appropriation of the department, office or agency concerned and in the total of the General Appropriations Bill.
Amid all the theatrics we see involving the use of hard-earned taxpayers’ monies; the public ought to be more vigilant against abuses and deception. We ought to do our part in holding them to their oath of office to serve with utmost transparency, honesty, and accountability. We, too, are to blame if we keep the corrupt in office.
It is not enough that PDAF is scrapped from the 2014 budget as a lump sum amount. How politicians will respond to the clamor against abuses, corruption, and greed should be our guiding light when we vote in the succeeding elections. Scrap the pork barrel; keep those abusing the pork out of office.
We have the power to do so!
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