QUAKE VICTIMS ASK: WHERE IS THE CALAMITY FUND? PALACE GIVING CONFLICTING FIGURES
Deputy presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte INQUIRER FILE PHOTO
MANILA, OCTOBER 21, 2013 (INQUIRER) By Christian V. Esguerra, TJ Burgonio- Is the government’s calamity fund drying up?
When President Aquino’s spokesman Edwin Lacierda declared last week that the government had “lots of money” to respond to the emergency caused by the earthquake devastation in Central Visayas, he was apparently kidding.
The Aquino administration has a total of P461.4 billion it can tap in case of calamities and related emergencies, based on this year’s national budget.
Part of the total package is the annual calamity fund of P7.5 billion, which is listed under “special purpose funds,” a set of lump-sum appropriations described by critics as presidential pork barrel.
During his state visit to South Korea late last week, however, Aquino told reporters that only P1.37 billion was left of the calamity fund.
But survivors of the 7.2-magnitude earthquake that killed more than 180 people and destroyed centuries-old churches in Cebu and Bohol provinces on Oct. 15 have complained that they have not seen government presence in their towns since the quake struck.
In Bohol, epicenter of the earthquake, entire towns had no electricity and water and residents claimed they received no help from the government during the first two days of the emergency.
When help finally arrived in one village on the third day, the aid consisted of two sacks containing 20 packages of rice and groceries, not enough for the 600 people in the community.
Authorities explained that the destruction of roads and bridges had made it difficult for the government to reach remote towns and villages.
They said some repaired bridges and roads were reopened to traffic on Friday, speeding up delivery of relief to devastated towns.
There is no mention of lack of money to buy relief goods.
As of Sunday morning, the Department of Social Welfare and Development had shelled out P8.05 million in “food and nonfood” relief assistance to victims of the earthquake.
“We’re still working to reach villages and towns that still need help from the DSWD,” deputy presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte said on state-run radio dzRB.
Relief goods started to arrive in Sagbayan town in Bohol on Saturday and hundreds of residents lined up at the municipal hall expecting to receive food packages donated by private groups and business organizations in Manila.
But many went home empty-handed.
Resident Tita Fajardo said only allies of local officials got top priority in the distribution of the goods, leaving nothing for indigent people who had been waiting for help for five days.
Fajardo said 30 people from remote villages lined up for relief at the municipal hall on Wednesday but were turned away.
“They prioritized their allies rather than those who badly needed [help],” she said.
Fajardo said she decided to give to the rejected villagers 15 relief tickets that she had planned to give to her neighbors because the indigents really had nothing to eat.
Valte said the Palace had received reports that “some local politicians” were withholding relief from towns where the goods were needed.
She said Interior Secretary Mar Roxas had issued orders to make sure that relief operations were not “tainted with politics.”
“If these allegations are proven against some supposed politicians, then we will not hesitate to move against them,” Valte said.
In Sagbayan, the venue of the distribution of relief goods was changed on Sunday. Instead of residents flocking to the municipal hall to receive aid, the goods were taken to the villages in military trucks for distribution to the needy.
“The military has spearheaded some of the distribution in order to [prevent some people] from taking advantage,” said Capt. Lolito Destajo of the Philippine Army’s 6th Special Forces Company.
Emelda Detinol, 43, said she and her 6-year-old daughter Jopay arrived at the municipal hall at 8 a.m. on Saturday and waited for their turn to receive aid.
But when her turn came, she said she was disappointed to get just a plastic bag containing one kilo of rice, three cans of sardines, a can of corned tuna and three packs of instant noodles.
Detinol said she and her daughter walked 2 kilometers from Amay Sentro village to the town center, only to get relief goods for only one day.
She said she and her husband had eight children and her grandmother lived with them.
“What we got was good for only one day. We have nothing to eat tomorrow,” she said.
When will the next package come?
The National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC) said the earthquake displaced nearly 400,000 people. Many are still in makeshift tents, terrorized by aftershocks and unwilling to return home.
About 109,000 people are sheltering in government-run evacuation centers in Bohol and Cebu.
Social Welfare Secretary Corazon Soliman said on Saturday that the relief operations would continue until all the displaced have returned home.
She mentioned nothing about the government needing donations to help the evacuees.
Of the P461.4 billion available this year in the event of calamities and other emergencies, allocations pooled from the special purpose funds amount to P127.05 billion.
Under the category of “unprogrammed fund” is P60.36 billion for the government’s disaster risk reduction and management program.
Allotted to the National Housing Authority is P21.37 billion.
In the regular budget, there is a “quick-response fund” of P34.84 billion.
Use pork barrel
If all that is not enough, why not tap P12 billion in pork barrel ordered held by the Supreme Court in response to petitions to abolish the graft-ridden Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF)?
Senate President Franklin Drilon said Sunday that the senators intended to pass a resolution expressing their sense that the President could tap the remaining pork barrel to augment his calamity fund.
Drilon said this could be done even if the Supreme Court had issued a temporary restraining order stopping the release of funds from the PDAF.
“Even if there is a case against the PDAF, this can be used to augment the calamity fund. Even if the Supreme Court declares it unconstitutional, this can be transferred to savings because the Constitution allows realignment,” he said in an interview on dzBB.
Regardless of how the Supreme Court rules on the PDAF, Drilon said the Senate would adopt a resolution expressing its sense that the remaining funds should be added to the President’s calamity fund.
Budget Secretary Florencio Abad earlier said that some P12.27 billion has not been released from the PDAF for the second half of 2013. The President ordered the suspension of the PDAF in the face of public outrage over its misuse.
Drilon could not say how much of the remaining funds was allotted for the senators and the representatives.
If at all, the Senate resolution would apply only to the unreleased pork allocation of the 24 senators, who are each allotted P200 million every year.
Drilon, who held a caucus with his colleagues centering on the pork barrel scam on Wednesday, said the chamber would decide on the language of the resolution.
“We will work it out how we will do it. Maybe authorizing Malacañang, but to me, technically there’s no need for authorization because the realignment of funds is with the Executive,” he said.
Nothing from House
The earthquake victims can expect nothing from the House of Representatives, which is not too keen on following the lead of the Senate.
Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr. said: “We certainly would like to contribute to Bohol and Cebu if our case is won, but we cannot give everything because, unlike senators we have obligations to specific constituencies.”
Belmonte stressed that the House was not sensitive to the plight of the earthquake victim like the Senate.
“Even from our salaries, we contributed to Zamboanga. What more from our PDAF,” he said, citing the P3 million raised from the salary contributions of each House member for the families displaced by the weeks-long siege in Zamboanga City.
He pointed out that it was hard to “speculate” on what should be done about the pork barrel frozen by the Supreme Court. “At the very least, I cannot commit without consulting the leaders of our 290 members,” he said.
Deputy Speaker Giorgidi Aggabao said House leaders “cannot second guess the sentiments of the members, especially since there are scholarships that have to be paid out of the PDAF.”—With reports from Gil C. Cabacungan in Manila and Carmel Loise Matus, Inquirer Visayas
Why Aquino does not want to abolish the pork As I See It, By Neal H. Cruz Philippine Daily Inquirer
9:29 pm | Sunday, October 20th, 2013
Actually, President Aquino can, by his lonesome, abolish the pork barrel—if he wants to.
A people’s initiative to outlaw pork or amending the Constitution so it will outlaw pork are good moves to finally free us from the shackles of government corruption. But they are long, complicated procedures that politicians can delay or even block. And, as the Inquirer editorial pointed out, a law today banning pork can be repealed by a shameless and corrupt Congress next year.
But if President Aquino is sincere about stamping out corruption, he can abolish pork with one phone call.
And not only the evil Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) but also all lump-sum appropriations which turn into pork.
“Hey Butch,” he can direct the budget secretary even by a mere phone call, “no more pork in the budget ha!”
And the budget secretary, even if he hates to do it (after all, he is a former congressman who benefited from pork), will have no choice but to remove the pork from the proposed national budget to be submitted to Congress. Members of Congress, much as they love to fatten on pork, cannot put it there.
They have no power under the Constitution to do that. They can only adjust or reduce the budgets proposed by the executive department.
But that would be good for only one year. The pork can be resurrected in the next budget proposal. But if the President is sincere about stopping corruption, he will not allow any pork in the budget proposals.
But that is good only for as long as Aquino is the president. What about after 2016 when we would have elected a new president? The new president may have promised the politicians who helped him get elected that should he become president he would restore the pork. That is why we should be very, very careful in choosing our next president. Don’t be fooled by the campaign hoopla. Look into the background of the candidates. Was he accused of involvement in any form of corruption in the past, while he was still mayor, for example?
The fastest and surest way to stop the pork permanently is for the Supreme Court to declare it unconstitutional. That way, the pork would be permanently dead and buried. The word “permanently” is used here relatively. The Supreme Court can reverse itself sometime in the future.
In fact, we are not even sure if the present high tribunal will declare the pork barrel unconstitutional. Magistrates have the bad habit of resorting to technicalities even if the evil in the case before them is obvious, even if the people—from whom all powers, including that of the high court emanate—want to be rid of the pork system.
We are also not sure if P-Noy is sincere in abolishing pork and therefore lessening, at least, corruption. Why did he lie to the people by telling them that the PDAF had been abolished when, in fact, he abolished only the name but not the pork itself? In fact, the pork is hidden in various disguises in next year’s national budget, into which members of Congress can still dip their filthy hands.
P-Noy even defended the pork, asking what would happen to the scholars and patients that pork was helping, which was a very shallow excuse. Of course the executive department—the Department of Education and the Department of Health under him in particular—should continue to give them assistance. What is the problem there? Is the executive department under P-Noy so incompetent that it cannot help those who need help?
But why is P-Noy reluctant or afraid to abolish the pork, so afraid to the point of lying to the people? Because he has his own pork, billions and billions of pesos of it. He is afraid that if he abolishes the congressional pork, the lawmakers, in retaliation, will also abolish his own pork. That the lawmakers can do.
Besides, he uses pork to bribe lawmakers to do what he wants. He uses it as a carrot and stick. Cooperative lawmakers get their pork promptly, uncooperative ones don’t. He wants them to impeach and vote to convict the chief justice? Plenty of pork will convince them to do what he wants. He wants them to pass a certain bill, pork will help accomplish that.
And the Supreme Court, in earlier decisions declaring the pork barrel constitutional, called the pork the “great equalizer.” It said that rural areas forgotten or neglected by the national government were getting their needed projects through the pork barrel of their congressmen.
True, but we have seen the large-scale leakage and eventual loss of the people’s funds through the pork barrel system. Only about half of the budget for a given project goes to the project itself. The rest is stolen by lawmakers and their friends and cohorts.
In the case of the P10-billion pork barrel scam reportedly engineered by Janet Napoles, nothing, not even a peso, went to the projects. Everything was allegedly stolen by Janet and her lawmaker-partners.
And we have seen how easily it could be done, even with the alleged strict documentary requirements of the implementing agencies. According to whistle-blowers, Napoles had her staff do nothing but produce fake documents and forge signatures and submit project endorsements to the implementing agencies. Nobody in these agencies thought of verifying the documents and the signatures. She followed up the submissions with visits and phone calls to her partners in Congress.
Let’s all wake up and stop this kleptocracy.
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KAPIHAN NOTES: Guests at today’s Kapihan sa Manila at the Diamond Hotel are former senator Panfilo Lacson and beleaguered Customs Commissioner Ruffy Biazon. Lacson was once head of the Presidential Anti-Organized Crime Task Force that successfully went after criminals, while Biazon is now besieged by organized smugglers in the Bureau of Customs.
Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi
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