Most senators want ‘pork’ deleted, few opt for disaster aid
MANILA, Philippines – The fallout from the pork barrel scam seems to be weighing heavily on many senators who opted to remove their fund allocation instead of using it for victims of the world’s worst typhoon.
A majority, or at least 14 senators, want their pork barrel allocation deleted from the 2014 budget. Only a few want the funds realigned for their advocacies and aid for typhoon victims.
Most senators beat the deadline to submit letters to Senate Finance Committee chairman Francis Escudero on Monday, November 11, stating their position on their Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) allocation for 2014.
The deadline came 3 days after Typhoon Yolanda (international codename Haiyan) hit Eastern Visayas, with 10,000 feared dead in Leyte alone. Yolanda is the world’s worst typhoon for 2013 and one of the most powerful to make landfall ever.
Of the 24 senators, at least 14 indicated their preference to forfeit the P200 million allocated to each of them, subtracting the amount from the proposed P2.268 trillion budget. They are:
- Sen Francis Escudero
- Senate President Franklin Drilon
- Sen Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel III
- Sen Bam Aquino
- Sen Grace Poe
- Sen Nancy Binay
- Sen Sergio “Serge” Osmeña III
- Sen Cynthia Villar
- Sen Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr
- Sen Vicente “Tito” Sotto III
- Sen Gregorio Honasan II
- Sen Juan Edgardo “Sonny” Angara
- Sen Teofisto “TG” Guingona III
- Sen Loren Legarda
Legarda clarified to Rappler that her letter was addressed to Drilon and was sent in October, before senators decided to submit their individual views on the issue.
Other senators opted for the realignment or reallocation of their PDAF:
- Sen Antonio “Sonny” Trillanes IV – realigned to his chosen agencies
- Senate Majority Leader Alan Peter Cayetano – proposed to realign all PDAF funds of the Senate to the calamity fund
- Sen Joseph Victor “JV” Ejercito – realigned to calamity fund
- Sen Miriam Defensor Santiago – proposed to reallocate all PDAF to the calamity fund and contingency fund
The letters from Senators Juan Ponce Enrile, Jinggoy Estrada, Ralph Recto, Bong Revilla and Lito Lapid have yet to be submitted or released to the media.
Enrile’s staff told Rappler that his office was not aware of the need to submit a letter because he was absent in the caucus last month. Yet he stated in past interviews that he is for the “abolition of all pork barrel.”
Estrada’s staff said the senator has not yet submitted a letter as he is still in the United States. “In past interviews, he said he has no problem with abolishing the PDAF but his concern is how to help indigent constituents requesting for assistance,” said media relations officer Fred Aure.
In an interview on October 21, Recto said he was studying the matter but added, "I think, the bigger calamity is not being able to use that money for the calamity victims. Remember, all of this happened in the last 30 days: the Zamboanga siege, [Typhoon] Santi and the [Visayas] earthquake. It will be a shame not to use it for the victims.”
Revilla has said that he supports the “total abolition of the PDAF.”
In a caucus last month, senators agreed to take an individual stand on their PDAF allocations for 2014. Escudero said that for those who do not submit letters, the House of Representatives position will be adopted, which is to realign the PDAF to 4 government agencies.
Escudero will prepare a committee report on the Senate stand on the PDAF, and present it before plenary when session resumes on November 18.
Public clamor, reduce deficit
The senators who opted to delete their PDAF said they were responding to public outrage over the pork barrel scam, where lawmakers allegedly channeled the money to fake non-governmental organizations in exchange for kickbacks amounting to as much as 50% of ghost projects.
Villar wrote Escudero, “In adherence to the call of the people for the abolition of the pork barrel….I am resolutely proposing to deduct the aggregate amount of P200 million from the FY 2014 General Appropriations Bill.”
In a statement, Osmeña said the pork barrel “is nothing but a blank check that is given to certain people for political purposes or to expand their political base.” The senator said this was his position even way back in 1996, when he delivered a speech against the pork barrel.
“Senators do not need Congressional Initiative Allowances because we are not beholden to any small district or particular constituency. If the people judge us, they judge us as a whole on our performance in the Senate. The perception of the public is that somehow, may kalokohan ito (there are shenanigans here). Since we don’t need it, perhaps it would be good to eliminate it completely as a whole,” Osmeña said then.
In his letter, Guingona said deleting his PDAF allocation will also decrease the budget deficit.
Instead of realigning the PDAF to help victims of Yolanda and the earthquake that hit Visayas in October, Drilon and Escudero are eyeing the creation of a P10-billion special rehabilitation fund to be included in the 2014 budget.
Escudero said having a majority of senators support the deletion of the PDAF will impact on the pending resolutions calling for the abolition of the pork barrel.
“We need to vote on the resolution because the last discussion in caucus was to leave it to the individual decision of each senator. If there is a majority [for deletion], that will change because there are pending resolutions to that effect,” he said.
‘Totally insensitive to the poor’
Some of those who favored realignment criticized the senators who opted for the total deletion of the PDAF.
Trillanes told Rappler, “There's nothing noble about deleting [the PDAF] from the budget. It just shows that they are more concerned about trying to please the media while being totally insensitive to the needs of the poor and the marginalized sectors.
The senator said he was not “joining the bandwagon” to delete the PDAF because this “will not achieve anything.” Instead, he wants to realign his PDAF “so that our constituents and advocacies won’t be compromised.”
Trillanes wants his PDAF realigned to the Department of Health, Commission on Higher Education, Technical Education and Skills Development Authority, Department of National Defense, and Philippine National Police.
Santiago had a different proposal. She wants to amend the use of the P25 billion in PDAF that the House of Representatives distributed to 4 agencies. Santiago wants the money reallocated to the calamity fund, while the remaining P200 million will be used to increase the budget for the contingency fund.
Ejercito and Cayetano’s stand was similar to Santiago’s. Ejercito asked that his own PDAF be realigned to the calamity fund to help Yolanda and quake victims. He also called on the Senate to collectively revise the approved House version of the budget bill to “ensure a bigger budget for rehabilitation and disaster mitigation efforts.”
“We should muster all our efforts and funds to help calamity victims recover from the ‘hell’ they are now living. This is the best time to put the pork barrel into good and practical use,” said Ejercito who is a member of the Senate minority.
Cayetano also urged the Senate to use the whole P4.8 billion in PDAF allocated to senators to augment the calamity fund.
“I also urge the Committee…to explain [to the public] that what we must abolish is the system that gives individual legislators the discretion and the authority over lump sum amounts but this does not mean that we will deprive our people of the much needed funds for programs and services,” Cayetano said.
Escudero said the opposing views show that senators have different interpretations of the abolition of the pork barrel. While some took it to mean total deletion, others define pork barrel as a lump sum or involving lawmakers’ discretion. – Rappler.com