[PHOTO AT LEFT - President Arroyo, left, is greeted by Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung prior to the 16th annual summit of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in Hanoi, Vietnam yesterday. AP]

MANILA, APRIL 9, 2010 (STAR) President Arroyo has cut short her trip to Hanoi, Vietnam for the 16th Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) summit, fuelling speculations over the health of First Gentleman Jose Miguel Arroyo, who was just discharged from St. Luke’s Medical Center on Wednesday.

The President is expected to return to the country at 2 a.m. today, 17 hours ahead of her previously set schedule.

Reports coming from Hanoi said Mrs. Arroyo was overheard saying that she wanted to return to Manila shortly after arriving at the Noi Bai Airport yesterday afternoon.

She held her scheduled bilateral meetings with Malaysian Prime Minister Dato Seri Mod Najib Tun Razak and Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung at the sidelines of the summit.

After the meetings, she attended the leaders’ summit at the National Convention Center. She also attended a state dinner for the ASEAN heads of state.

“He’s fine when I left,” the President said when asked about the First Gentleman’s health.

Press Secretary Crispulo Icban, part of the delegation, said the President might want to be with her husband.

GMA releases 'pork' for admin campaign By Jess Diaz (The Philippine Star) Updated April 09, 2010 12:00 AM

MANILA, Philippines - President Arroyo has been advancing pork barrel fund releases to her congressional allies apparently to boost their election campaign.

“She frontloaded releases for the campaign,” an administration congressman revealed to The STAR yesterday.

He said a big part of the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) allocations has been made available to administration allies.

“Congressional initiatives (otherwise known as budgetary insertions) are also being released,” he said.

Another administration congressman revealed that most of the releases were made before March 26, when the 45-day ban on public works projects came into effect.

March 26 was also the start of the campaign for local positions, including congressional seats.

Those who are not in the good graces of Malacañang apparently are not beneficiaries of fund releases.

Pangasinan Rep. Jose de Venecia Jr. told The STAR last weekend that Mrs. Arroyo has not been releasing the money for his constituents in the fourth district of Pangasinan “since early last year.”

“It is not I whom they are depriving of funds, it is my constituents, who are entitled to those funds,” he said.

The former House speaker and the Arroyos parted ways in 2008 over the revelations of De Venecia’s son Joey about the alleged interest of Mrs. Arroyo’s husband in the $329-million broadband contract with Chinese firm ZTE Corp. The First Gentleman denied Joey’s accusation.

De Venecia’s wife Gina, who has reconciled with her kumadre Mrs. Arroyo, is seeking to replace her husband.

Also not getting their pork barrel money are militant party-list representatives like Rep. Satur Ocampo of Bayan Muna.

Budget Secretary Joaquin Lagonera confirmed the pork barrel allocations of lawmakers have been released since last month, and maintained there was nothing irregular over the release of the funds.

Lagonera said his predecessor Rolando Andaya Jr., who is running for a congressional seat in Camarines Sur, had signed the releases.

“We’re (Department of Budget and Management) just doing our job and complying with the provisions of the law, specifically the General Appropriations Act (GAA),” Lagonera said.

“There’s nothing political in what we do and we don’t want to comment on whatever political issues that are being raised out there,” he said.

He said from what he knows, all the releases were made on or before March 25, the deadline set by law governing allocations of public funds during an election period.

Lagonera explained the allocations are released upon the endorsement of the legislative committee head as well as from the Speaker.

He said the request for funding of congressional projects must also adhere to provisions of the GAA and the standards set by the DBM on what projects can be allowed.

Lagonera said not all funding requests are accommodated since it would depend on the availability of funds and the urgency of a particular project.

Members of the House of Representatives are each allocated P70 million a year in pork barrel funds. Each senator is given P200 million a year.

The congressional pork barrel includes billions in PDAF money. The PDAF is the source of funds for the “soft” projects of senators and congressmen like medical, livelihood and educational assistance to constituents.

It is the only transparent pork barrel item in the national budget in that it is so specified among several lump-sum appropriations. For 2010, lawmakers have P10.9 billion in PDAF money.

The bulk of pork barrel funds – those for “hard” projects like roads – are embedded in the budgets of several infrastructure agencies like the Department of Public Works and Highways, Department of Transportation and Communications, Department of Agriculture (for irrigation systems and farm-to-market roads), and even the Department of Education, in the case of classrooms.

On top of the regular annual allocations of P70 million to P200 million, enterprising lawmakers, most of them leaders of the House and the Senate and members of the appropriations and finance committees of the two chambers, have hundreds of millions in budgetary insertions.

Traditionally, insertions are released only when there are excess tax collections.

Other congressmen told The STAR that Mrs. Arroyo is releasing the bulk of her allies’ pork barrel funds during the election campaign and before her term ends on June 30 so that these could no longer be withheld by the incoming president.

Some of them said the early release of the money is connected with the President’s reported plan to seek the position of Speaker of the incoming House of Representatives.

Before approving the P1.541-trillion 2010 budget, senators and congressmen reduced debt payment funds by P65 billion and diverted the huge reduction to their pork barrel, hiding it in the budgets of various agencies.

In signing the budget, Mrs. Arroyo vetoed the reduction but kept the appropriations inserted by lawmakers.

The developments further fueled the members of the Lakas-Kampi-CMD party to go full swing in their reelection bid and boost the chances of administration candidate Gilberto Teodoro.

Negros Occidental Rep. Ignacio Arroyo, the President’s brother-in-law, and Bacolod Rep. Monico Puentevella said the entire Lakas-Kampi-CMD machinery are now geared up to support Teodoro and the administration slate.

“The entire Lakas machinery will work doubly hard to ensure Teodoro’s victory,” Rep. Arroyo said.

Puentevella said Teodoro, along with running mate Edu Manzano and the rest of the administration senatorial ticket, would emerge winners in Bacolod.

Teodoro said movements in the local government units for his presidential bid would be more visible in the coming weeks since the funding for Lakas would be released.

Teodoro said reports of defections from Lakas because of poor funding are propaganda from the opposition.

“There are talks of defections but there are also talks that a lot will defect to me,” he said.

He also expressed full trust and confidence that the administration machinery will deliver the votes and secure the presidency for him on May 10. –With Paolo Romero, Jaime Laude, Antonieta Lopez

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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