MANILA – If President Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III had truly wanted to heed the call of the August 26 Million People March in Luneta, he would have abolished the entire pork barrel system from the start instead of merely going after a few who were implicated in the pork barrel scam. This is the statement issued today by Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU) national president Elmer Bong Labog, in response to the indictment of three opposition senators who allegedly benefited from the pork barrel scam.
The group welcomed the indictment, but maintains that the problem with the pork barrel system lies not only in a few bad apples. Without abolishing the entire pork barrel system, the Filipino people would not gain much from seeing mud in a few beneficiaries’ faces, while the rest including Aquino himself, who has the biggest pork of all, continue to enjoy pork, said the KMU.
Implicated with Janet Lim Napoles are Senators Bong Revilla, Juan Ponce Enrile and Jinggoy Estrada. Maintaining and defending the entire corrupt pork barrel system while zeroing in on these “few bad apples” only shows that Aquino is merely “diminishing the opposition’s chances in the 2016 elections,” Labog said in a statement.
Hidden pork still fattening Aquino’s clique, trapos
Since last year’s huge rallies against the pork barrel system, various progressive groups have demanded the abolition not just of the much-criticized Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) but of the entire pork barrel system. President Aquino responded by strongly defending the pork barrel system, most especially the presidential pork. At one point, he was criticized for having cited even the disasters that pummelled the country as excuses for keeping the pork barrel system.
The pork barrel system is comprised largely of lump sum, discretionary public funds the use (or misuse) of which falls under the discretion of a few or just one person, like the president. An exposé by one of the three opposition senators accused President Aquino of using his own pork barrel funds to gain the political upper hand, from ousting former Chief Justice Renato Corona to rushing processes to amend the constitution.
The Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) of lawmakers was supposedly abolished when the Supreme Court ruled that it is unconstitutional, but, according to ACT Teachers Partylist Rep. Antonio Tinio, it actually lives on in the national budget, “under a new mechanism.”
The P14.6-billion unspent funds from the PDAF when the SC banned it only changed hands and was transferred to the discretionary funds of President Aquino, according to ACT Teachers’ Rep. Antonio Tinio.
Tinio said much of the P14.6-b unspent 2013 PDAF were allotted as augmentation to calamity funds that were used by various implementing agencies, such as the DSWD, in relief and rehab, reconstruction, capital expenditures for disaster operations, in the siege and unrest in Zamboanga City and in the aftermath of the Bohol earthquake. The DBM released funds directly to implementing agencies with the president’s approval.
“Essentially, Congress gave President (Aquino) blanket authority to spend P14.6 billion. When disasters hit a locality, local government units and officials could avail of these funds although they have to negotiate for it with the national government,” Tinio said. In those negotiations, patronage politics often figure, as the Yolanda survivors alliance People Surge found out in reporting the “color-coded” disaster response of the Aquino government.
“Color-coded” disaster response refers to what happened in the aftermath of supertyphoon Haiyan or Yolanda where local government officials belonging to the ruling party received the bulk of relief and rehabilitation funds and services while those belonging to the opposition received practically nil.
In the 2014 budget, PDAF for legislators took the form of “formal and informal” arrangements and “recommendations” of certain amounts to various government agencies, ACT Rep. Tinio said in a forum discussing “hidden pork.”
House Speaker Feliciano Belmonte denied this in mainstream media reports, but various amounts of budgets were indeed placed by lawmakers in different government agencies. Tinio said at least P20.8 billion of “House pork” were tucked into the 2014 budgets of six line agencies; there were at least P1.8 billion of “Senate pork” placed in several agencies.
With the required wheeling and dealing for those “recommendations” to be approved, and its sharing and commissions, President Aquino, as the one with the final say, now has tighter control over the legislators’ pork barrel funds, Labog of KMU noted.
This new version of the PDAF, on top of the other untouched lump sum appropriations in the budget, all meant that pork has not really gone away, and with it, the numerous opportunities for corruption and patronage politics, as various critics have long pointed out.
In the 2014 budget and in next year’s budget, pork barrel funds are largely present as “lumps” here and there, said Former National Treasurer Leonor Briones in a forum on “Hidden Pork” co-sponsored by Social Watch Philippines and Strike the Pork Movement. From her discussion, nearly half of the national budget is pork, as seen in lump sums.
“In the physical system, lumps are often indicators of illness. It’s the same with the budget,” she said. “The government has supposedly excised the PDAF, but a closer look into the budget shows us that the pork barrel system is very much alive,” she said.
Briones likened the 2014 national budget to a big box which, when opened, will reveal funds in two separate boxes.
One holds the funds under the General Appropriations Act, amounting to P1.4 trillion pesos (but these, too, are distributed in various boxes, some of which, called “special purpose funds,” are lump sums that only the president has control of).
The other box contains funds for automatic appropriations, P796 billion pesos, which do not pass public scrutiny according to Prof. Briones.
As such, all in all, of the P2.26-trillion budget, only the P1.4-trillion were debated and seemingly visible to the public. (The debate over it is still limited by the processes set by the executive department and Congress, based on the findings in the Open Budget survey.)
The rest of the national budget are in the category of lump sum funds, falling under the discretion of the President, and as such are actually pork barrel funds, Briones said. There are also “off-budget items” such as the P40.6-b direct remittances to government offices, like those coming from Motor Vehicles Users charge. These funds are handled directly by the Department of Public Works and Highways, supposedly for road maintenance. But, Briones said, they learned that it is being spent on building a conference center in Cebu.
Some unexplained funds are being categorized under unprogrammed funds. For example, Briones said, the budget item “support for infrastructure” amounting to P20 billion are not included in the budget of the DPWH. These funds amounted to P26 billion in 2012 and P23 billion in 2013. The total unprogrammed funds this year amounted to almost P140 billion.
According to ACT Teachers’ Rep. Tinio, the pork barrel continues to grease the working relationship between Malacañang and Congress, explaining why even unpopular and anti-people moves, such as the latest moves to amend the Constitution, have been breezing through Congress.
If enacted, the Resolution of Both Houses No. 1 will pave the way for amendments, by mere legislation, of the constitution to allow 100 percent foreign ownership of land, public utilities, natural resources, media agencies and advertising, among others. Tinio warned that “hidden pork will be used to facilitate the exploitation of our people and the plunder of our land and resources.”
In another statement, the KMU called on the Filipino workers and people to continue to press for the abolition of the pork barrel system and corruption in the Aquino government, even as we continue to press for the prosecution of those involved in the pork barrel scam. (bulatlat.com)