Budget Secretary Florencio Abad INQUIRER FILE PHOTO

MANILA , AUGUST 26, 2013
(INQUIRER) By TJ Burgonio - The priority development assistance fund (PDAF) will be totally scrapped in the 2015 national budget, but lawmakers could still identify local projects, Malacañang said Sunday.

Malacañang officials aired an appeal to skeptics to trust President Aquino to implement reforms in a post-PDAF era ahead of Monday’s rally against the fund.

When the executive department starts preparing the 2015 budget as early as December 2013, there will not be an item for the PDAF, according to Budget Secretary Florencio Abad.

“In 2015, there’s no more PDAF. There’s no need to put a block of money there,” he said in an interview by phone. “There won’t be any other name for it because it won’t be there.”

While the President announced the abolition of PDAF last Friday, the executive department retained the P25.2 billion allocation for PDAF in the proposed P2.268-trillion 2014 national budget because this has been programmed for social services and infrastructure.

Malacañang, however, indicated that lawmakers’ discretion in “nominating” projects to line agencies crafting the national expenditure program would not be clipped. After all, Congress has the “power over the purse,” Abad said.

Abad advised strident proponents of the complete removal of such discretion to talk this out with the lawmakers themselves. He said Congress is a co-equal branch of government.

“They want to exclude the congressmen. How can you do that when Congress is there to perform that function?” he said, referring to the Congress’ “power over the purse.” “They have to talk to the congressmen.”

Such power included “determining what projects to fund, whether there’s pork barrel or not,” he said. “The power over the purse is a constitutional obligation. It’s not as if they can forgo with it.”
He observed that the “distrust” caused by the P10-billion pork barrel scam has “clouded” the lawmakers’ power over the purse.
The President’s announcement on PDAF abolition had been met with skepticism by many who observed that he missed the point when he continued to grant lawmakers’ discretion to identify projects.

In a turnaround from an earlier stand, the President last Friday declared that it was time to abolish PDAF, admitting that its “scandalous” misuse persisted despite the reforms he instituted.

The President directed Senate President Franklin Drilon and House Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr. to devise a mechanism to address the needs of constituents in a “transparent, methodical and rational” manner.

From now on, Aquino said the lawmakers could identify and suggest projects in their districts but this would have to go through the budgetary process. If approved, the projects would be earmarked as “line items” in the national budget.

Over government-run dzRB, deputy presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte invited administration critics to “take a look” at the administration’s gains in its reforms in the budgetary system.

“If you go through starting with the 2011 budget – that was the first budget proposed by the administration – we can see the reforms laid down by the administration to support the trust that the President gets from the people,” she said.

Abad said the challenge facing senators and representatives in the House was to figure out how to allocate the P25.2 billion after some lawmakers indicated they would forgo it.

If all the 24 senators would forgo it, that would be P4.8 billion less the amount. Apart from them, representatives in the Lower Chamber had also indicated the same intention, Abad said.

If some lawmakers eventually decided to forgo, it would reduce the budget deficit, he said.

“We really don’t know where it will lead. We need to talk to the legislators and figure out how to configure this. This is going to be a much reduced budget. Are they going to pursue this? What if the civil society wants to participate in identifying projects?” he said.

The options could range from lawmakers choosing projects and listing them down as line items, to civil society organizations crafting recommendations on how to spend it, Abad said.

“I think it’s an opportunity for us in the DBM to get people to understand the budget process, and once they are able to do this, find ways by which they can participate in the process,” he said.

The budget secretary said that civil society groups could make recommendations, but admitted that the timetable was tight. But he said that lawmakers were not totally close to that idea “as long as it won’t delay the budget process.”

Abad admitted that there were two options on PDAF: Keep it intact and use it for line budgeting, and second, completely do away with P25.2 billion.

The first was unacceptable, while the second was not practical since reelected legislators were still supporting students enrolled in school. The middle ground was a reduced P25.2 billion, Abad said.

“It will be reduced substantially. There will be a balance. So where are we going to put the balance? That’s the question that will face Congress,” he said.

‘President Aquino heard his Bosses but he’s not listening’ By Christian V. Esguerra Philippine Daily Inquirer 12:55 am | Sunday, August 25th, 2013

[THE SIGN SAYS IT ALL: Student Ivan Lacson prepares placards and tarpaulins on Sunday that will be used in today’s huge rally at the Rizal Park. PHOTO BY EDWIN MULI]

Listen to your “bosses.”

President Aquino’s announcement that he was now for “abolishing” the congressional pork barrel, officially called the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF), was a case of hearing—but not really listening to—the growing public clamor that the entire pork barrel system be scrapped for good.

Peachy Rallonza-Bretaña, one of the organizers of the reportedly mammoth rally against the pork barrel at Rizal Park tomorrow, said the President’s decision had done nothing to convince protesters to abandon the mass action dubbed the Million People March.

“He heard the shout, the cry, the demand to scrap the pork barrel but he has not listened yet,” Bretaña said in a phone interview.

“He should listen to his ‘bosses,’” she said, using the term that Mr. Aquino himself uses for the Filipino Everyman.
Bretaña described as a “spin” the President’s announcement, which was made in an unscheduled press conference three days before the antipork march.

Not buying spin

“We’re not going to buy that spin,” she said, arguing that Mr. Aquino was simply replacing the existing PDAF with a new mechanism that would retain the questionable nature of pork allocations.

“It’s still the same. What he did was to come up with a stopgap measure but he’s not abolishing the pork barrel,” she said.

Judging by the response of members of her own circle, she said even more people have now vowed to show up and make their voices heard at Luneta.

“I was getting calls yesterday asking if the march would push through in light of the President’s announcement,” Bretaña said. “Of course. Nothing has changed,” she said.

Snowballing mass action

One million people are expected to join the march at Luneta on Monday to register their indignation and outrage over public officials’ theft of their taxes.

The idea, which originated in social media, has snowballed into a veritable mass action to include religious, professional, business, civil society and even militant and leftist groups.

Bretaña said organizers are bound by the “common interest” to work for the abolition of the pork barrel system and punish those who sated themselves on the pork barrel over the years.

The investigation should then be “transparent” and cover not only people under the previous administration but also those in the current government, she said.

“It’s our hard-earned money, your money, that we’re talking about here,” she said.

Bretaña said she met last Wednesday with a “hodgepodge” of people preparing for the Luneta rally “so that there would be a semblance of organization” during the march proper.

Christian evangelicals joining

The leaders of many Christian evangelical churches on Saturday urged the faithful to join the Million People March on Monday as they denounced corruption as a “moral evil that has deeply affected many elements of our national life.”

“We join this Million March to say: ‘Enough is enough,’” the Born Again and Protestant Church leaders said in a joint statement.

The recent reports about the P10-billion pork barrel scam showed “widespread corruption—a travesty to our sense of being Filipinos,” the evangelical leaders said.

“It speaks of the extent of degradation of the moral standards amongst some of our political leaders as to constitute, in our view, a form of syndicated plunder,” they said in their statement.

“We ask every nation-loving Filipino, especially members of the Body of Christ, to signify their indignation to corruption and corrupt practices by joining the… rally [tomorrow] at Quirino Grandstand,” they said.

The statement was signed by more than 20 Christian evangelical leaders that included Bro. Eddie Villanueva, chair emeritus of the Philippines for Jesus Movement; Bishop Efraim Tendero, Philippine Council of Evangelical Churches national director; Dr. Nora Lucero, Philippine Bible Society secretary general; Bishop Val Chavez, national president of the Church of the Four Square Gospel in the Philippines; and Bishop Reynaldo A. Calusay, president of the Philippines General Council of the Assemblies of God Inc.

Continue COA audit

The pork barrel should be abolished or suspended for at least three years and the Commission on Audit’s review of the pork barrel releases should continue until it covers current disbursements, they said.

They said they also wanted to ensure that whatever new system is put in place to replace the old one would not be abused again by unscrupulous individuals.

“A comprehensive, competent and independent review of all the PDAF transactions and documentation should be pursued and if warranted, the filing of appropriate charges in the soonest time possible,” they said.

“There should be no discrimination as to the legislators involved, no blind justice to political friends or foes. The investigation may begin with Janet Napoles but let it reach those above and below her,” they added.

Antipork protesters in various Luzon provinces are not backing out of their planned rallies demanding the abolition of the pork barrel system despite President Aquino’s announcement on the pork’s abolition.

Kapampangans who are supporting the Million People March at Luneta will converge at 8.30 a.m. tomorrow at Holy Rosary Parish in Angeles City for a Mass and brief program, Catholic Church leaders said yesterday.

“It’s the channeling of PDAF through nongovernment organizations that P-Noy is abolishing, not the pork itself. What about the executive pork?” said Pampanga Auxiliary Bishop Pablo Virgilio David.

Protesters have been requested to wear white shirts, tie a white ribbon and hang signs reading, “No More Pork Barrel,” on their cars, houses, windows, gates and trees.

In Baguio City, the militant Tongtongan ti Umili sent out text invitations to an antipork rally at 11 a.m. on Monday. The rally will take place at the city’s Igorot Park and is intended to dramatize outrage over the pork barrel.

Wear white only

In Pangasinan province, the antipork rally at 9 a.m. on Monday in Dagupan City will push through, its organizers said.
“We were heard but we want him to listen. We have more to say. Let’s show that we Dagupeños and Pangasinenses are against pork and demand accountability and transparency,” said blogger Simon Francis Blaise Vistro.

The wearing of political colors will not be allowed during the protest activity in Dagupan, said Vistro.

“Wear white [or your desired color]. No group banners. No speeches. Just all of us ordinary, tax-paying people showing the government that we are the boss here,” he said.

“Together, let us express our grievances in a peaceful protest against the pork barrel and demand accountability and transparency. The Filipino people deserve an explanation,” Vistro said.

Virginia Jasmin Pasalo, a member of the Pangasinan Historical and Cultural Commission, said in a separate post that it was time to look at where the pork barrel of six Pangasinan representatives went.

“There are six districts with supposedly P200 million each. Time to look at those projects,” Pasalo said.

Pangasinan Rep. Leopoldo Bataoil said he had no problem with the scrapping of the PDAF and fully supported the President’s newfound policy.

“We can even focus more on our mandate of making laws. But the same amount of fund should benefit our respective districts in terms of projects identified by the implementing agencies with utmost transparency in all levels of government transactions,” he said.

Baguio Rep. Nicasio Aliping Jr., however, offered a contrary view during a Friday news conference after the President’s announcement.

“If there’s no pork barrel, then there would be no use for congressmen,” he said. But noticing the bewildered expressions of reporters, Aliping said quickly he was joking.

Day of rage

The planned people’s protest assembly, dubbed “a day of rage at the park,” at Perez Park in Lucena City, will push through, said the organizers, who described as “deceptive” the President’s order abolishing the PDAF.

According to Jansepth Geronimo, spokesperson of the People’s Movement in Quezon Against Corruption (PMQAC), Mr. Aquino seemed to have made the declaration just to appease the growing public clamor for a “full and real abolition of the pork barrel system.”

Mr. Aquino should have given up his own presidential pork barrel if he was really sincere about scrapping the pork barrel system but he did not even say a word about it, Geronimo said.

Mr. Aquino was just scared by the threat of a nationwide protest but had no intention of abolishing the system altogether.
“He will just change the system, drop the name for a new one but the fat of the pork will still remain,” he said.

Geronimo said rally organizers will prepare a huge tarpaulin for protesters to affix their signatures in a collective manifestation of rage against Mr. Aquino’s “deception.”

He said the struggle against the evil of the pork barrel will be over only if the President “will abolish the whole system for good and send the thieves to jail.”

The PMQAC was convened by the Coalition of Coconut Farmers in Quezon, Ugnayan ng Magsasaka sa Gitnang Quezon and Alay-Kapwa Multi-Purpose Cooperatives.

Naga City march

Using social media, protest leaders in Naga City have asked those who want to express their indignation at the misuse of the pork barrel to converge in the city’s Plaza Rizal tomorrow.

Initiated by young alumni of Ateneo de Naga University composed of university professor Vic Nierva, JanRev Davila, Allan Rey Camata and Bernice Paita, the planned mass action has been dubbed “Halion Na An Pork Barrel Naga March (Naga Abolish the Pork Barrel Now March).”

Davila said Nierva started the conversation with a post in Bicol that said: “Can we also have multisectoral indignation rally here in Naga simultaneous with the planned protest in Manila on Aug. 26?”

It was posted on Aug. 17 and then a group chat dubbed “Naga Voice” was started. By Aug. 19, the call for the “Abolish Now” march had been firmed up.

In two days’ time, the organizing group’s membership had grown to 677 and several progressive groups like Akbayan expressed their intention to participate, said Davila.

“The goal is for every individual to go to Plaza Rizal. It is open to any call supporting the investigation of the scam, the prosecution of persons involved and the abolition of the pork barrel,” he said.

Davila said individuals from different sectors, mostly youth, young professionals and the academe, have signified their intention to join the march. With reports from Philip C. Tubeza; Tonette Orejas, Inquirer Central Luzon; Gabriel Cardinoza and Vincent Cabreza, Inquirer Northern Luzon; Delfin T. Mallari Jr. Inquirer Southern Luzon; and Juan Escandor Jr., Inquirer Southern Luzon.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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