(STAR) By Jess Diaz - Senators and congressmen have increased their Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) or pork barrel fund for this year by nearly P4 billion, to P10.861 billion.

The PDAF is the only transparent pork barrel allocation of members of Congress in that it is so specified as a lump sum in the annual budget.

It is the source of money for so-called “soft” projects of lawmakers like medical, livelihood and educational assistance.

Tens of billions more in funds for “hard” projects are embedded in the budgets of infrastructure agencies such as the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH), Department of Transportation and Communications (DOTC), and Department of Agriculture (DA) for farm-to-market roads and irrigation canals.

President Arroyo recommended P6.940 billion for the PDAF of senators and congressmen in her proposed P1.541-trillion 2010 national budget.

The amount is P700 million more than the level she proposed in previous years.

In their version of this year’s budget, congressmen increased the PDAF appropriation by P200 million to P7.14 billion.

The Senate later added P3.7 billion more, bringing the Congress-approved PDAF to P10.861 billion.

The huge increase apparently came from the P65-billion reduction in debt payments that the Senate-House conference committee made and diverted to the congressional pork barrel.

Sen. Edgardo Angara, Senate finance committee chairman, and his House counterpart Quirino Rep. Junie Cua jointly headed the conference panel.

Of the P65-billion debt payment cut, the Angara-Cua committee gave P30 billion to the DPWH, the agency where most congressional pork barrel funds are hidden.

It was the biggest augmentation made by the panel, which increased new funds for the DPWH for next year from P96.6 billion, as proposed by the President, to P126.9 billion.

The Angara-Cua panel gave the Department of Education (DepEd) an additional P2.1 billion, increasing its budget to P161.4 billion.

State colleges and universities received P2.8 billion more, bringing the total amount of funds they will get next year to P22.4 billion.

DepEd, where some pork barrel funds are also hidden, and state schools received a combined augmentation of P4.9 billion, less than a sixth of what the Angara-Cua committee gave DPWH in additional money.

During the House deliberations on Mrs. Arroyo’s budget proposal, Budget Secretary Rolando Andaya Jr. said the President reduced the amount of money she proposed for the DPWH for next year, compared to this year’s level, because the department still had tens of billions in backlog spending.

“There’s no use giving them additional money because they cannot spend it anyway,” he said.

He said unlike other appropriations, infrastructure funds are good for two years.

The other recipients of huge augmentations from the Angara-Cua committee include the DA, which received an additional P3.3 billion; DOTC, P2.1 billion; Department of Agrarian Reform, P1.3 billion; Department of Environment and Natural Resources, and P1.5 billion; Department of the Interior and Local Government, P1.1 billion.

Subsidies for government corporations were increased by P3.3 billion to P24.3 billion.

Among the recipients was Angara’s two-year-old Aurora Special Economic Zone Authority (ASEZA), whose 2010 budget jumped five times to P800 million from only P145 million as proposed by Mrs. Arroyo.

ASEZA has barely taken off. It is even in a dispute with scores of farmers, who are claiming part of its territory.

Gary Olivar, presidential spokesman for economic issues, has told a Quezon City news forum that Mrs. Arroyo would most likely veto the P65-billion reduction in debt payments.

“She wants to continue her policy of fiscal prudence and responsibility, and does not want to expand the budget deficit. Because debt payments are automatically appropriated under the law, you will increase the deficit if the huge reduction is not vetoed,” he said.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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