MANILA, November 20, 2004 (STAR) By Jess Diaz - If congressmen are clinging to billions in pork barrel, 10 senators led by Senate President Franklin Drilon are committed to give up a total of P1.3 billion in "pork" allocations for next year to bring down the budget deficit.

"I stand by my commitment not to avail myself of these funds next year. This issue is left to the individual judgment of each senator, and I suppose those who have promised to give up their pork barrel would stand by it," Drilon told journalists yesterday.

He was reacting to reports that the House of Representatives has decided to keep its pork barrel at the original level of P70 million for each member, rejecting the 40-percent reduction that President Arroyo had proposed.

Congressmen said they were keeping their funds because Mrs. Arroyo has declared that the fiscal crisis is already over.

While House members have at least P70 million each, senators have a minimum of P200 million each.

Drilon and opposition Senators Panfilo Lacson and Alfredo Lim are giving up their entire P200 million, while Francis Pangilinan, Juan Flavier, Ramon Magsaysay Jr., Ralph Recto, Lito Lapid, Pia Cayetano and Richard Gordon are each surrendering half of their allocations.

Thus, the 10 are not touching P1.3 billion in taxpayer’s money that would otherwise go to their pork barrel. According to Drilon, that amount would be deducted from the proposed P907.6-billion 2005 budget.

Next year would be the third straight year that Lacson is giving up his funds. Lim is the only neophyte senator who is surrendering his entire allocation. The two are the only opposition senators who have committed to give up their funds.

Other members of the smaller chamber are non-committal on the matter of not touching their pork barrel at least next year, while still others would only surrender their funds if all senators do so.

Asked if he agreed with congressmen that the fiscal crisis the nation is facing is already over, Drilon did not give a direct answer, apparently avoiding a potential debate with House members and even with Mrs. Arroyo.

But he said the "fiscal situation needs to be stabilized and the lack of resources addressed."

"That is the reason why we have the sin tax bill and all these revenue measures," he said.

To promote transparency in the use of pork barrel allocations, Drilon urged congressmen and his colleagues who are using those funds to itemize their projects in the budget.

"Speaker (Jose) De Venecia has promised that they would resort to line-item budgeting in the case of the pork barrel. I support that," he said.

He said an itemization of the projects to be funded by the pork barrel would make it easy for the people to monitor who is using their tax money and for what, and whether the funds are being used efficiently and effectively.

For his part, Lacson said he was "both amazed and sickened at the callousness" of congressmen in retaining their pork barrel.

"I say callous for it was done when so many vital issues are distracting the nation and at a time when the country is still reeling from crisis and at the same time being hounded by issues on graft and corruption in high places of government and growing incidence of poverty," he said.

Lacson said while there is great effort to make people pay additional taxes, "there seems to be no effort at all to cut on government expenditures by means of cutting down pork barrel allocations."

"Living without pork alone would have easily saved the government some P20 billion — with or without new tax measures," he stressed. — With Jose Rodel Clapano

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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