PerryScope: By Perry Diaz
LAST August 23, 2013, three days before the “Million People March” anti-pork barrel rally at the Rizal Park (Luneta), President Benigno “P-Noy” Aquino III, in a seemingly pre-emptive move, announced that its time to abolish the PDAF, the acronym for Priority Development Assistance Fund, or more commonly known as “pork barrel.” The rally, which was initiated by netizens, demanded for the abolition of pork barrel. A few individuals using Facebook barely two weeks ago, posted a call for “Martsa sa Luneta” on August 26, 2013.
The attendance, which varies from 65,000 to 100,000, manifested the seriousness of the pork barrel scandal. The rally could be the “tipping point” of the people’s fight against pork barrel… and corruption. Many felt that P-Noy reneged on his promise of “Walang corrupt, walang mahirap.”
Never before since the EDSA people power revolution of 1986 has an issue galvanized the people to rise in protest. The social media has taken the place of EDSA as the venue for people to vent their anger against corruption and incompetence in government. Just imagine how fast “news” travels around. It’s faster than sound and light; everybody is just a “click” away.
It did not then come as a surprise when P-Noy called for an unscheduled press conference to announce that pork barrel has to go. He told reporters that he was not “threatened” by the “Martsa sa Luneta. ” “Why should we be worried? We’ve gained more allies in fixing the system. Thanks a lot to them,” he said. He blamed the administration of former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo for all the anomalies the Commission on Audit (COA) found in a three-year study on pork barrel corruption.
P-Noy should stop blaming Gloria for all his problems. While it may be true that the pork barrel scam ran by Janet Lim-Napoles started during Gloria’s time, it did not end when P-Noy ascended to the presidency. In fact, the COA report shows that the pork barrel scam increased in volume and more lawmakers – 12 senators and 180 congressmen – were involved in raiding the PDAF funds and splitting the funds 70-30 with the lawmakers getting the lion’s share.
But blaming Gloria is not going to work this time around. Department of Budget and Management (DBM) records show that in 2010, Gloria’s last budget year, PDAF was P6.9 billion. The following year, with P-Noy having full control of the budget, he could have pared down the PDAF allocations. But instead, PDAF allocations took a quantum leap. In 2011, PDAF more than tripled from 2010’s P6.9 billion to P22.3 billion! In 2012, it was increased to P24.89 billion. It was for the same amount in 2013. But in 2014, PDAF will increase to a record P27 billion!
P1-trillion presidential pork
Recently, it was reported in the news that Bayan Muna Rep. Neri Colmenares and former Treasurer Leonor Briones “want the executive department to explain the lump sum items in the national budget which they believe are the President’s version of lawmakers’ pork barrel funds.” Briones estimates the lump sums under the President's discretion to be around P1 trillion.” She explained that any “lump sum” fund that is under the discretion of an official like a senator, congressman or president, is considered a “pork barrel.” She defined “pork barrel” as an allocation with no details on how and where it will be spent.” She also said that the power of the President to redirect or realign funds in the budget would make the whole national budget his “pork,” which he can use any which way he wants.
The following is a breakdown of the presidential pork by category:
Special purpose funds - P310.1 billion, which includes big items such as PDAF (P25.42 billion), Budgetary support to state-owned corporations (P45.7), and miscellaneous personnel benefits fund (P80.7 billion).
Unprogrammed funds – P139.9 billion, which include Support to foreign-assisted projects (P16.124 billion), Support for infra projects and social programs (P56.349 billion), AFP modernization program (P10.349 billion), Debt management program (P10.894 billion), and Risk management program (P30 billion).
Under the President’s control - Budget for school buildings (P200 billion).
PAGCOR and PCSO – They contribute to the social fund. PAGCOR will contribute about P2 billion to the President's social fund this year.
Malampaya funds – More than P100 billion will be at the disposal of P-Noy this year.
Miscellaneous – Debt servicing (P352 billion) and Internal Revenue allotment (P341.5 billion) “allegedly” under the President's control.
If you add the miscellaneous items to the P1 trillion that Briones estimated, then you are looking at a whopping P1.45-trillion presidential pork! That would represent 55.7% of the P2.6-trillion budget for 2014.
Budget Secretary Florencio “Butch” Abad disputes Colmenares and Briones’ observations. He claimed that P-Noy “has been prudent in spending.” If so, how much is left over and where did it go? Perhaps P-Noy should allow COA to audit his P1-trillion pork to the satisfaction of his “bosses,” the people. The lack of transparency and accountability makes the people suspicious of abuses like the pork barrel scam that Janet Lim-Napoles allegedly pulled off, which defrauded the government of P10 billion from lawmakers’ PDAF in the past 10 years.
Pork by any other name…
While P-Noy said that the PDAF would be abolished, he instructed the Senate and the House of Representatives to “find a new way to deal with the needs of constituents ‘in a manner that is transparent, methodical and rational’ and ‘not susceptible’ to abuse.” In other words, pork barrel is here to stay; only the name would change.
In my article, “For the love of pork…” (August 23, 2013), I wrote: “It is interesting to note that the PDAF can trace its provenance to 1989 when P-Noy’s mother Cory created the Mindanao Development Fund (MDF) and the Visayas Development Fund (VDF), with and appropriation of P480 million and P240 million, respectively. In 1990, the MDF and VDF were combined and expanded nationwide as the Countrywide Development Fund (CDF) with an appropriation of P2.3 billion. In 2000, the CDF was renamed PDAF.”
It seems that we are once again going through the rigmarole of renaming “pork barrel” into something else. But like a lot of people are saying, “Pork by any other name is still pork.” What is it this time? As someone suggested, why not BADAF, which is an acronym for “Benigno Aquino Development Assistance Fund” or BACON, which stands for “Budgetary Allocation for Collaborative Outreach Nationwide”?
I believe it is time to get rid of PDAF, which is the number one cause of corruption. While P-Noy might be “prudent” in spending his pork barrel funds as Abad said, who knows what the next president would do? He or she might not be as “prudent” as P-Noy.
For P-Noy to chop the P27-billion pork but keep the P1-trillion bacon is not only unfair, it is unconscionable. P-Noy is now at the crossroads of his political life; he can follow a “daang matuwid” (straight path) or take a detour to a road that would lead him to ignominy.
Mr. President, it’s time to act… resolutely.