(PHILSTAR)By Paolo Romero and Marvin Sy - The Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) or pork barrel is no longer in the proposed budget for next year, Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr. clarified yesterday even as he pushed for funding for social services and infrastructure projects in legislative districts.

He said the subject of the Supreme Court (SC)’s temporary restraining order (TRO) were the PDAF releases for the 2013 General Appropriations Act.

“What I would like to reiterate is that there will be no PDAF in the 2014 budget,” Belmonte said.

“And I might add that having a lump sum, which also enabled some lawmakers to turn over the funds or pass through, with the connivance of implementing agencies into NGOS and into questionable activities, those features will no longer exist in the 2014 budget,” he said.

He said the chamber has also set guidelines that would bar the use of congressional allocations for “consumables” or for projects that pass through NGOs.

The House has broken up the P25-billion PDAF in the proposed GAA to various implementing agencies, including the Departments of Public Works and Highways (DPWH), Social Welfare and Development (DSWD), Health (DOH), Education (DepEd), Labor and Employment (DOLE) and the Commission on Higher Education (CHED).

The DSWD got P5.1 billion out of the PDAF while the DOH, DepEd, DOLE were given P2.5 billion each, and CHED, P1.25 billion.

The chamber is expected to approve the proposed national budget on third and final reading before the end of the month. The new budget includes an itemized list of projects proposed by House members for their districts but whose implementation would be handled by the agencies.

Belmonte said some lawmakers, including himself, were not able to avail of a portion of the 2013 PDAF due to the late filing of their identified projects.

“But I feel for the new congressmen, the first time congressmen, because they are also covered by the TRO on the second half of 2013, which is the beginning of their new term, they are really the hardest hit. But I have no doubt that come 2014 what we have done will pass the test,” he said.

The House leader said there is need for a mechanism where the urgent needs of constituents, such as medical assistance, can be immediately addressed by lawmakers’ allocations.

There are an estimated half a million scholars dependent on the PDAF and several hundred thousand indigent patients who rely on financial assistance from members of Congress, according to Marikina City Rep. Romero Quimbo.

The House will resume session tomorrow and will introduce amendments that are mostly proposed infrastructure projects of lawmakers for their respective districts to be implemented by the DPWH.

With the DPWH getting about P8.8 billion or 35 percent of the PDAF, the infrastructure allocation that can be proposed would amount to some P24 million for each lawmaker. Most of the requests are for school buildings and multi-purpose structures.

Belmonte said last week that Public Works Secretary Rogelio Singson and the House leadership had issued strict guidelines on the implementation of projects identified by lawmakers.

Definitely out

Meanwhile, Sen. Franklin Drilon said whatever ruling the SC issues on petitions questioning the constitutionality of PDAF, the controversial allocation would definitely be removed from the budget program for next year.

“Under my watch as Senate president, reforms will start with the immediate abolition of PDAF allocation for senators in the proposed 2014 national budget,” Drilon said.

“There is no turning back as far as the pork barrel system is concerned. We have to institute these reforms in order to regain our people’s trust and confidence,” he said.

He added that based on consultation with his colleagues, PDAF would have to be removed from the 2014 budget program even if the SC junks the petitions.

Drilon was among the first legislators to support calls for the abolition of the PDAF when reports about its misuse by some officials came out in the media.

At the time, Drilon said resistance to the abolition of the PDAF would most likely come from the House of Representatives and not from the Senate because House members have greater need for funds for their constituents than senators.

During oral arguments on the petitions, senior associate justice Antonio Carpio pointed out that PDAF abolition may only be possible through an act of Congress or a ruling by the Supreme Court.

Drilon said that there are other options available to abolish the PDAF apart from the two mentioned by Carpio.

“We do not need a special law to abolish PDAF as an item in the General Appropriations Act. Aside from a court ruling that will declare the PDAF unconstitutional, the executive (branch) or the Congress may exercise other options to abolish congressional pork barrel to respond to the clamor of the people,” Drilon said.

On the part of the executive branch, Drilon said the President may simply opt to exclude the PDAF from the National Expenditure Program when he submits this to Congress.

If Congress approves a version of the GAA with the PDAF still intact, Drilon said the President can always exercise his veto power and remove the item from the measure.

He said the President also has the power to fully or partially impound the release of any item in the GAA, including the PDAF.

The other option, which Drilon said the Senate would most likely take, is the deletion of the entire P25-billion allocation for PDAF from the proposed P2.268-trillion national budget for 2014.

This would mean that the 2014 national budget would end up at only P2.243 trillion.

The House of Representatives appears to be leaning towards another option, which is to realign the P25 billion to various government agencies for the implementation of specific programs and projects that the legislators would identify.

Under the Aquino administration, each member of the House is allocated P70 million in PDAF while each senator is given P200 million annually.

Palace: DAP projects aboveboard, implemented by concerned agencies, not NGOs By TJ Burgonio Philippine Daily Inquirer 6:19 pm | Sunday, October 13th, 2013

MANILA, Philippines — While senators requested P100 million for their pet projects in 2011, these projects were eventually executed by the executive department, Malacañang said Sunday.

But given lingering questions about the legality and propriety of fund releases to lawmakers after the Senate convicted Chief Justice Renato Corona in May 2012, Malacañang said it would be prudent to wait for the state auditors’ report on the matter.

Deputy presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte (photo) agreed with Sen. Franklin Drilon’s contention that the projects funded through Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP) in 2012 were implemented by the executive department of the Philippine government.

“At least at face value, you could see that they identified projects that fell under the implementing agencies,’’ Valte said in an interview over State-run dzRB.

While there were inputs from the legislators, the agencies were the ones that executed the projects, Valte said.

“The implementing agencies were still in charge of making sure that the projects were implemented,’’ she said.

In the case of six administration senators that identified projects worth P100 million, Valte said that the funds did not end up in non-government organizations (NGOs),’’ Valte said.

In their letters to Drilon, then finance committee chair, Senators Alan Peter Cayetano, Ralph Recto, Antonio Trillanes IV, Teofisto Guingona III, Sergio Osmeña III and now retired Sen. Francis Pangilinan each requested P100 million for “priority projects.’’

On Drilon’s instruction, the six senators submitted their priority lists to Drilon in late November 2011.

Eventually in 2012, the Department of Budget and Management announced the implementation of P72.11 billion in additional projects funded through savings from 2010 and 2011.

After being charged with plunder over the P10-billion pork barrel scam, Sen. Jinggoy Estrada divulged in late September the release of P50 million to senators’ projects following Corona’s conviction in May 2012.

Budget Secretary Florencio Abad confirmed that 20 senators received additional pork barrel amounting to P1.107 billion months after Corona’ conviction in May 2012. He said this was sourced from the DAP introduced in 2011.

Drilon got an allocation of P100 million; Sen. Francis Escudero, P99 million, and then Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile, P92 million.

Valte explained that in November 2011, the DBM opened itself to proposals from government agencies and legislators to identify projects for funding while the government was “trying to catch up with spending.’’

“If we look back, the GDP (gross domestic product), I think, at the time (2011), was at 3.6 (percent) and we sorely needed to catch up or to accelerate on spending. And that, in fact, was accomplished because, if you look at the NEDA review that was conducted for the first quarter to the fourth quarter of 2012, the numbers for public spending really picked up,’’ she said.

Otherwise, the government would rather wait for the outcome of the special audit of the DAP by the Commission on Audit, Valte said.

“I understand that COA has already been—is already in the process of auditing projects that were identified under the DAP mechanism, so let’s wait for the results of the audit that is being conducted by COA,’’ she said.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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