MARCH 25, 2007 (STAR) By Paolo Romero - Malacañang took its hands off the issue of increased pork barrel allocations of lawmakers in the 2007 national budget, which President Arroyo signed on Thursday.

Budget Secretary Rolando Andaya claimed the lawmakers themselves made the increase through insertions made during the bicameral conference committee meetings when the final copy of the national budget was drafted for signing by the President.

He said Malacañang had initially sought P6.2 billion of the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) of lawmakers but they themselves made the initiative of increasing it by about P5.2 billion.

The bulk of the PDAF, or about P3.9 billion, was taken from the P18.7-billion allocation to pay the benefits and terminal leave pays of some 7,000 government retirees this year.

In the effort to offset the imbalance, Andaya said Mrs. Arroyo is going to exercise her executive powers to impound a portion of the PDAF and return the money to its original allocation.

"The President could not veto it (PDAF) because it’s either P11.4 billion or zero. So the best thing is the middle ground or its implementation," Andaya said. "We have to satisfy the requirements of the retirees."

Andaya stressed Malacañang will prioritize the claims of the retirees over any request of a senator or a congressman for a drawdown from PDAF.

"We are assuring them (retirees) that their applications would come first before any PDAF-related request," he said.

Andaya said the President has the power to withhold the pork barrel funds of the lawmakers.

"It can be done in manner that will comply with the law, without violating any budgetary regulation. In fact, the President, theoretically, can impound or freeze all PDAF releases," he said.

Andaya pointed out the President’s power over the budget, which can also be manifested by realigning some of the funds, savings and augmentations.

But as of now, Andaya said, there is a moratorium on the release of pork barrel allocations aside from the election ban on public works and some other forms of spending.

"So there’s a hiatus in this type of expenditure," Andaya said.

With the terms of incumbent lawmakers about to end for a new Congress in July "there will be a long pork holiday, if you wish to call it," he said.

A top Malacañang official said Mrs. Arroyo had no choice but not to veto the bloated PDAF of lawmakers to cut government spending.

The official said the President made the move even if it means she would literally sever her relations with her allies in the Senate and the House of Representatives.

The official revealed not all of the lawmaker members of the bicameral conference committee were privy to the PDAF increase.

The official said even Andaya and some lawmakers were annoyed after they were not consulted by Sen. Franklin Drilon, chairman of the Senate finance committee and Joey Salceda, then Albay representative and chairman of the House appropriations committee, in making the changes.

Salceda, now presidential chief of staff, could not be reached for comment.

Andaya said the bicameral panel should have consulted him and Malacañang over the issue to thresh out possible realignments of the pork barrel funds without necessarily increasing it.

"The President could not allow a zero pork since the P6.2 billion we asked for is the amount we wanted to spend as a payback. This is really for the constituents," he said.

When Mrs. Arroyo found out the pork allocations were almost doubled, Andaya claimed the President immediately sought to find a way to circumvent the move of the lawmakers.

Now that the budget has been signed, the first big block of fund that will be rolled out is the Calamity Assistance and Relief Efforts (CARE) for provinces, including Bicol, devastated by the four successive super typhoons last year, Andaya said.

He said Mrs. Arroyo has ordered the immediate release of CARE funds.

"We have consulted our lawyers and our liaison with the Comelec (Commission on Elections) gave us the feedback that calamity relief is exempt from the public works ban," Andaya said.

Evil system

On the other hand, opposition Sen. Panfilo Lacson reiterated his proposal to abolish the PDAF of lawmakers altogether.

Lacson claimed he has not availed himself of such funds. Every year, during the budget enactment process, he makes sure that his P200-million allocation is deducted from the national budget.

He said the billions in pork barrel funds could better be used for basic services, including health and education.

The pork barrel system is "evil," according to Lacson, as it is a major source of corruption for many lawmakers, government officials and bureaucrats.

"Up to 40 percent of the funds goes to the deep pockets of corrupt officials and personnel. At the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH), the principal implementing agency for pork barrel-financed projects, at least 10 percent is lost to corruption.

"Even government auditors demand a minimum of five percent," he said.

Lacson stressed Mrs. Arroyo has the power to abolish the pork barrel by not including it in the national budget and vetoing it in case Congress inserts it in the outlay.

However, he pointed that Mrs. Arroyo would not dare scrap such funds as she fears she might be impeached by even her allies in the House and convicted by the Senate.

The pork barrel allocates at least P70 million for each House member and P200 million for each senator. – With Jess Diaz

Based on a House membership of 230 and 24 senators, the amount of taxpayers’ money that members of Congress can dispense comes up to P16.1 billion for the House and P4.8 billion for the Senate, or a total of P20.9 billion.

In 2005, the President reduced the P70 million-P200 million allocation by 40 percent in the wake of the financial difficulties that the nation was facing then.

To prove to the nation that they, too, were ready to sacrifice their allocations, Drilon and Sen. Alfredo Lim joined Lacson in giving up their funds for that year.

According to Drilon, who uses most of his funds for the construction of classrooms, even barangay captains and school principals demand money for signing certificates of acceptance of classrooms.

This means that corruption has infected the entire officialdom, from top to bottom, he said.

Drilon allocates his school building funds to the Federation of Filipino Chinese Chambers of Commerce, which builds classrooms at P250,000 per unit, or half the cost it would take the DPWH to construct them.

Drilon said the P250,000 price difference is the cost of corruption.

In the House, scores of members were found to have diverted millions of pork barrel funds to liquid fertilizer purchases in the middle of 2004 and in 2005.

The funds were added to allocations congressmen received from the P2.8-billion fertilizer and farm inputs budget that Mrs. Arroyo released shortly before the May 2004 presidential election.

A Commission on Audit report showed that liquid fertilizer was overpriced by 800 percent to 1,300 percent. In the Bicol region, out of P70 million that was audited, more than P40 million was believed to have gone to the pockets of corrupt congressmen.

Among House members who used their funds for liquid fertilizer purchases were three belonging to the party-list group Association of Philippine Electric Cooperatives (APEC).

In fact, auditors raised questions about the liquid fertilizer deals of APEC representatives since the transactions were completely unrelated to the electric cooperatives that they were supposed to represent. - with Jess Diaz

More ‘pork’ but no fund source The Philippine Star 03/25/2007

Lawmakers doubled their pork barrel allocations, but where to get all that pork is a headache for Budget Secretary Rolando Andaya Jr.

Andaya said the bicameral conference committee did not consult the budget department when it approved the additional P6.2-billion pork barrel.

Based on the 2007 General Appropriations Act, the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) or pork barrel is pegged at P11 billion.

"Our analysis is, not enough study was made on the effects of the increase,’’ Andaya said on the weekly radio program Para sa Iyo Bayan of Vice President Noli de Castro.

"The DBM was not consulted at all as to where to get the funds to raise the PDAF to P11 billion. They should have asked but we were never given the chance,’’ he said.

He said the lawmakers adjusted the PDAF at the bicameral conference committee level when the final copy of the national budget was ready for signing by President Arroyo.

Malacañang’s proposed PDAF allocation was only P6.2 billion. The bulk of the PDAF, or about P3.9 billion, would be taken from the P18.7-billion benefits and terminal leave pay for some 7,000 government retirees this year.

"The President wants us to be very careful about the P11 billion so that the retirement and terminal leave pay of retiring government employees will not be affected,’’ he said.

He said the government moved to increase the salary of government employees from 2006 to 2010 but Congress rejected the initiative.

He said the DBM hopes to present a new salary increase proposal to Congress after the May elections.

The proposed salary raise will require a budget of P80 billion, according to Andaya.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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