Binay beats Aquino on scrapping ‘pork’ fund

The Senate Finance Committee on Wednesday moved to delete a P200- million annual pork-barrel fund inherited by Vice President Jejomar  Binay from former-Senator-now-President Aquino after Binay offered to give it up amid mounting clamor to scrap the congressional assistance fund.

Binay’s chief of staff, Undersecretary Benjamin Martinez, informed the committee during the Senate budget hearing, chaired by Sen. Francis Escudero, that the Vice President was asking lawmakers to delete Mr. Aquino’s Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) from the Office of the Vice President (OVP) budget for next year.

Martinez confirmed that for fiscal year 2011, the OVP was given a PDAF, also known as the pork barrel, in the amount of P200 million. The said fund came from the unutilized PDAF allocation of then-Senator Aquino, he said.

He added that in fiscal year, 2012, Budget Secretary Butch Abad, “in support of the constituency of the Vice President,” released the amount of P200 million incorporated in the agency’s regular budget under the line item for locally funded projects amounting to P100 million and a capital outlay of P100 million, respectively.”

Martinez conveyed to Escudero’s committee Binay’s assurance that the “utilization and disbursement of the said funds are subject to the implementing rules and regulations on locally funded projects.” Martinez added that Binay’s office, for next year, plans to provide funds for the construction of multipurpose buildings for target beneficiaries, numbering about 200 city/municipal local government units (LGUs) across the country, with an appropriation of P500,000 each per city or municipality.

“These Beneficiaries are...focused on those sixth class towns which we completed, fifth class municipalities and now we were planning to actually provide buildings for fourth class municipalities. The projects should benefit these beneficiary cities and municipalities for their livelihood assistance,” he said.

In addition, he reported to the committee that Binay’s office also provided educational  assistance amounting to P25 million. “The scholarships covered those in state-run universities and colleges in the form of faculty-development assistance.”

“As of July 1, 2013, the OVP has 1,538 scholars enrolled in 106 SUCs across the country. Further assistance we have provided P45 milllion geared towards improving the medical and health frontline services of all LGUs, especially those with complete centers across the country,” he added.

Escudero, in turn, asked Martinez to clarify whether Binay was actually proposing that the P200 million allocated for locally funded projects be deleted from the OVP budget.

“Mr. Chairman, whether it will be deleted or removed...our purpose really is to just inform Congress that this P200 million which is subject to a lot of questions right now, although we have our own views at this time, just to remove all of these, we believe that it is prudent for all of us to just forego this,” Binay’s chief of staff replied.

House realigns P24.4-B PDAF

The House of Representatives on Wednesday decided to realign their PDAF and the P200-million lump-sum fund of Binay to at least six government agencies.

House Appropriations Committee Chairman and Davao Second District Rep. Isidro Ungab said that the total fund amounting to P25.4 billion, will be transferred to the Department of Health, Department of Education, Commission on Higher Education, Department of Labor and Employment, Department of Social Welfare and Development  and Department of Public Works and Highways.

“The House members voted almost unanimously to this [realignment],” he said. “We don’t have anymore discretion on the said fund but we can still recommend beneficiaries and projects to the implementing agencies.

Challenge to Aquino

Social Watch Philippines (SWP) has challenged President Aquino to follow the lead of Binay, who had asked the Senate to scrap his P200-million pork barrel for 2014.

SWP said Mr. Aquino should prove that he has the political will to end corruption by totally abolishing the P25-billion PDAF, or pork barrel, and items of the Special Purpose Funds (SPF) in the national budget for 2014. “SPFs breed corruption. How can Congress scrutinize the SPF when there is no detail? It is just one chart in the budget documents and one line in the summary papers,” SWP lead convener Leonor Magtolis Briones said.

“National allocation of funds should be based not only on broad national development concerns; but it should promote redistribution. That is the role of a strong development state. We do not need pork to uplift quality of life in poor provinces. The Internal Revenue Allotment of poorer provinces should be more,” SWP convener Marivic Raquiza said.

(With Jovee Marie dela Cruz)