ABOLITION OF LUMP SUM DISBURSEMENTS; PORK FOR SENATORS, SOLONS STAYS THE SAME
MANILA , AUGUST 26, 2013 (PHILSTAR) By Aurea Calica - It was no name game when President Aquino announced on Friday the abolition of the controversial Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) and its replacement with a line item budgeting system in which Congress will still have a say.
Budget and Management Secretary Florencio Abad made this clear yesterday in an interview over dzRB to squelch claims that the President may have just given PDAF a new name since the allocations for each senator and House member would remain the same.
Abad said line item budgeting would make a lot of difference as this would directly address the specific needs of every community or district. This means there would be no lump sum disbursement. Funding for projects would no longer be coursed through non-government organizations or foundations.
He said the reforms set into motion by the President would require detailed proposals from lawmakers before the latter are given funds for their projects.
The budget chief said the President’s trust and approval ratings remain high because he is known to keep his word. He vehemently denied that the new mechanism would only give the President and the Liberal Party tighter control over the budget.
Abad admitted the new system would prolong budget deliberations in Congress, but added it’s a small price to pay for a corruption-free disbursement of taxpayers’ money.
Totally scrapping allocation for lawmakers, Abad said, might force the discontinuation of projects with legitimate beneficiaries.
He said completely removing the discretion of lawmakers to nominate programs and projects would be too extreme at this point and would have adverse effects. He said steps are being made to plug the loopholes in the system.
Defending P-Noy’s pork
Abad also said the public should not be misled by claims that the President was being unfair for keeping his own pork barrel.
He also expressed belief that lawmakers understand the strong public sentiments against misuse of pork barrel and would allow changes to happen.
He said the President’s “pork” represents calamity and emergency funds whose disbursements are not programmed. While the executive department can set guidelines, only members of Congress can ultimately scrutinize and approve the budget, Abad said.
He lamented that some groups were deliberately muddling the issue to make the situation worse for the President and his administration.
Abad said he was able to speak with some of those who would join the rally tomorrow and ask them to be part of the budget process.
He said other countries like Brazil have long experience in “participatory budgeting process.”
He said that while the Constitution empowers Congress to scrutinize the budget, it does not prohibit citizens from taking part in the budget process.
He also maintained that PDAF was of noble beginnings but unscrupulous individuals would later tarnish its image.
“The President is looking for a solution to address the needs of the people without abusing the PDAF. And this is not a finished process,” Abad said. He said P25.2 billion had already been allocated for PDAF.
“Are we going to cancel or scrap PDAF? The question now is: What do we do with the P25.2 billion?” Abad argued.
With Aquino’s announcement of reforms in PDAF, Vice President Jejomar Binay proposed yesterday a “full accounting” of all PDAF disbursements from the previous Arroyo administration.
He said his proposal, if carried out, would assure “our people that the sins we assigned to the previous regime are no longer with us.”
He urged all government officials to unite behind President Aquino’s decision to abolish the PDAF.
“Let us all unite to ensure that the decision of the President is implemented with greater transparency, accountability and impartiality,” Binay said.
Binay said disbursements by the executive officials must be based on the real needs of the people in congressional districts.
“It should not be based on political considerations,” he said. “Otherwise, we will be reverting to the discredited practice of the past administration where the executive had total control in deciding who gets funding from the national government. I am certain that this is not what the President wants to happen.”
End of patronage politics
For Senate President Franklin Drilon, Aquino’s abolition of the PDAF signals the end of patronage politics.
“We laud the President for exercising political will over political patronage in handling the issue of PDAF. It only shows the government’s strong resolve in implementing tuwid na daan or straight path and good governance,” said Drilon, who was standing beside the President – along with Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr. – when the chief executive made the announcement.
Drilon said the PDAF has long been used as a political weapon at the local level due to the huge and continuous requirements of communities for infrastructure projects and livelihood programs.
“The decision to abolish the PDAF is a step that will free the poor from the shackles of political debt and patronage, which had been the practice of corrupt politicians who would do everything to perpetuate themselves in power,” he said.
“The most important thing is even if we abolished the PDAF, the needs of the constituents of legislators will not be neglected and will still be attended to, by ensuring that the government resources will be given to them to address their needs in a more direct, substantial, and transparent way,” Drilon said.
With proposed projects to be listed in the national budget as line items, it would now be easier to check if funds were spent on the right programs, Drilon said.
“It is important that the new process will follow the ordinary budget process, wherein the proposal is submitted, and then the line agency will review whether or not the project should indeed be funded,” Drilon said.
He said he is in favor of excluding certain items such as soft projects in the “menu” of programs submitted for line budgeting.
“These consumable soft projects and temporary infrastructure are susceptible to leakages and abuse like overpricing or ghost or incomplete deliveries like what happened in the previous administration which disbursed P750 million in six months for dredging rivers all over the country,” Drilon said.
In Dagupan City where he helped distribute relief goods for typhoon victims, Sen. Alan Peter Cayetano lauded the President for his decision but said, “We should continue to ensure that the pork is really dead otherwise it might resurrect.”
He said “erasing the pork barrel system will give the legislators moral ascendancy which I think is what we need right now.”
With the President’s announcement likely to have caught many lawmakers off guard, House leaders as well as heads of parties comprising the majority bloc have launched caucuses to clear issues.
A senior administration lawmaker said Belmonte led a meeting with some leaders of the chamber just hours after Aquino’s televised announcement.
Among those present were Majority Leader Neptali Gonzales II; Davao City Rep. Isidro Ungab, chairman of the House committee on appropriations; Cavite Rep. Elpidio Barzaga, head of the National Unity Party; and representatives of the Nationalist People’s Coalition and other political parties.
“We started looking at ways on how to implement the new rules, not only how it’s (projects line by line) done but also how the projects can be executed and ensure accountability,” the lawmaker said.
“We also looked at the limited menu (of projects) and we came up with a ‘negative list,’ meaning, no more dredging, desilting, regravelling, as well as ‘consumables’ like fertilizers and seeds,” he said.
Western Samar Rep. Mel Senen Sarmiento, secretary-general of the Liberal Party, said confusion, concerns and maybe even opposition were a given.
“Whenever there are changes, there would always be a reaction or resistance. But I’m very optimistic that when all these would be properly explained, then there would smooth implementation,” he said. – With Paolo Romero, Jose Rodel Clapano, Marvin Sy, Eva Visperas, Celso Amo
Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi
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