(STAR) By Aurea Calica - Lawmakers will not feast on a bigger "pork" next year but will in fact have to make do with a leaner one, Budget and Management Secretary Rolando Andaya Jr. said yesterday.

Andaya branded as an "outrageous lie" the statement by Albay Rep. Joey Salceda that P70 million and P200 million await each congressman and senator, respectively.

The budget chief said Malacanang proposed only P6.24 billion and not P21 billion in pork barrel allocations for lawmakers in the P1.136-trillion budget for 2007.

He stressed the proposal of the Palace and his department in the 2007 budget was to give each congressman P20 million in pork barrel funds and P60 million for each senator.

Andaya said the Congressmen themselves could jack up their pork barrel allocations since the proposed budget was technically a bill that they could amend.

He said anybody could scrutinize the proposed budget and would see that there was no truth to Salceda’s statements that the P70-million pork barrel allocation per congressman and P200 million per senator had been restored.

Salceda had said that under the proposed budget of Mrs. Arroyo, the pork barrel allocations were increased but stressed it was just reasonable given the upcoming elections in May 2007.

"Pork" allocations were slashed two years ago to P40 million per congressman and P120 million per senator because of the government’s financial difficulties.

"What can be considered pork in the proposed budget, the allocation that is called Priority Development Assistance Fund, has a funding of P6.24 billion, which is nowhere near the P21 billion that has been bruited about," Andaya said in a statement.

But "because the budget is technically a bill, then it can be amended or rewritten" by Congress, Andaya said.

"It (Congress) can jack up allocations for any item in the budget for as long as the budget ceiling is not breached," he noted.

"Clearly, the proposal for a bigger pork did not come from us. The DBM or Malacanang is not the author of this scheme and it’s so unfair that we are being hit for something we didn’t do," Andaya said.

The proposed PDAF for 2007, he added, was lower than the P7.1 billion spent last year. As far as the executive branch is concerned, the budget chief said "we’re trimming the ‘pork,’ not enlarging it."

He said the PDAF allocations for next year would translate to only P20 million per congressional district and P60 million per senatorial office.

"And we have included in the proposed budget the menu which can qualify for PDAF funding so there will be no abuse in its utilization. Road humps, street signs, waiting shed do not qualify for funding," he said.

"Nowhere in the proposed 2007 budget which we have submitted to Congress the clear stipulation that a member of the House will be getting P70 million worth of projects next year or that a senator will have naming rights to P200 million worth of projects," he said.

Andaya joked that "anybody who can cite me the specific budget language that that these officials are getting this much should be nominated for a Nobel prize on economics."

"You can go on a line-by-line scrutiny of the 2007 budget documents and these are open to the public and there’s no language there much less of a hint which grants P200 million each, for example, to senators," Andaya said.

11 categories

"Permissible PDAF expenditures" are bracketed under 11 categories: education, health, rural electrification, water supply, livelihood, public works, irrigation, housing, reforestation, police equipment and assistance to indigents under the "pro-poor" program of the government, Andaya explained.

"Even then, there are activities under each category which are not allowed: the purchase of textbooks for example, or medicine, because the procurement of these, we insist, should follow a program designed by the executive offices concerned," he said.

Andaya said the DBM was "sticking to its position that the PDAF be kept at a P6.2-billion level next year."

He also denied allegations that there was a special provision in the budget of the DPWH which grants lawmakers total access to P20 million worth of projects.

"If you read the 2007 budget (proposal), there’s no language in there which says that a member of Congress has rights over this certain amount of public works," he said.

Andaya said he was not able to "quickly respond" to news reports about the P21-billion pork in the 2007 budget "because it came out at a time when we’re opening DBM supply depots and government commissaries in Cebu, South Cotabato and Davao City, and an inspection of a possible site in Tagum City."

Salceda had previously said that at P70 million for each of the 236 members, the House pork barrel would cost taxpayers P16.5 billion. The Senate would have P4.8 billion in such funds at its disposal.

The pork barrel has long been widely perceived as a source of corruption for lawmakers and officials implementing their projects.

Salceda also said that in 2005 and this year, at least 196 members of the House majority bloc received P70 million each though they were officially entitled to only P40 million each.

He said Mrs. Arroyo allocated the additional P30 million from her own funds.

The 40 of the 236 House members who did not get the P30 million from Malacañang apparently belonged to the opposition bloc.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

All rights reserved