DBM on pork release: No political consideration
By Paolo Romero
The Philippine Star
MANILA, Philippines – Budget Secretary Joaquin Lagonera yesterday maintained that there were no political considerations in the release of pork barrel allocations to lawmakers because it was compliant with the standards set by the 2010 General Appropriations Act (GAA).
Lagonera was responding to allegations made by Pangasinan Rep. Jose de Venecia Jr. that President Arroyo has advanced congressional allocations to her allies in Congress apparently to boost their campaign and retain their support for the administration.
De Venecia complained that his pork barrel, euphemistically called Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF), has not been released since last year. De Venecia had a falling out with Mrs. Arroyo when he was still Speaker of the House of Representatives.
“The releases were made not along party lines, but (project) priority lines,” Lagonera told The STAR. “This issue always crops up every year, when there are releases (of PDAF.)”
He, however, said that he will check on De Venecia’s concerns.
Newly installed Lakas-Kampi-CMD party secretary-general Ray Roquero, on the other hand, denied that the administration party had a hand in the recent pork barrel releases.
“It’s the DBM that releases the fund, the party has nothing to do with it,” Roquero said.
He said the release is made every quarter as provided for by law.
Deputy presidential spokesperson Charito Planas said one major constraint in the release of PDAF is the lack of funds.
Lagonera pointed out that many administration congressmen have been angrily complaining to him that their requests have not been processed or approved by the DBM because of certain standards and constraints, mainly lack of funds.
“There are piles of requests in my office and many of them (administration lawmakers) are not happy,” Lagonera said.
He said the administration has set rules under the law that only economically beneficial projects, like farm-to-market roads, agricultural and irrigation projects, and education, among others, are allowed to be financed by PDAF.
“The projects must be consistent with the priorities called for by our economic situation,” Lagonera said.
He, however, admitted that lawmakers are also allowed some “soft” projects like giving scholarships and direct assistance to hospitals for dialysis and chemotherapy of their poor constituents.
He said it was normal that there would be a deluge in the filing of requests for pork barrel fund releases once the national budget is signed into law.
What compounded the situation, according to Lagonera, is the ban on projects set by the Commission on Elections (Comelec) owing to the coming elections on May 10. So congressmen, both administration and opposition, rushed to secure the release of their respective pork barrel allocations.
However, he said the lawmakers could have sought exemptions from the Comelec or just wait until after the elections and file their requests again.
“After May, we’ll see what we can do. Like if we have enough cash or expedite those already in the process,” he said.
Senators also get their ‘pork’
Meanwhile, sources at the House of Representatives said the senators are getting their share of billions in pork barrel releases.
“Yes, they are receiving their share, which is definitely a lot bigger than ours,” a member of the House committee on appropriations told The STAR yesterday.
“They are getting a large part of their P200-million a year regular allocation, plus their initiatives or insertions,” he said.
He said before Malacañang makes releases, the House, in the case of a congressman, or the Senate, in the case of a senator, certifies that certain amount of funds is included in the budget for the concerned member’s projects.
Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile and Sen. Edgardo Angara, finance committee chairman, sign certifications for the Senate; while Speaker Prospero Nograles and Quirino Rep. Junie Cua, appropriations committee chairman, sign such documents for the House, he said.
The certifications are accompanied by a listing of projects from a senator or congressman requesting for the release of his or her allocations, he added.
The congressional pork barrel dispenses P70 million for each of the more than 250 House members and P200 million for each senator. On top of those huge amounts, lawmakers have the so-called congressional initiatives or budgetary insertions.
The appropriations committee source said of the P65 billion in debt service funds that the Senate and the House diverted to the pork barrel, one-third or P21.6 billion is allocated for senators and P43.4 billion for congressmen.
“That has always been the sharing formula for insertions – it’s one-third, two-thirds. This means that if all insertions are released, the 23 senators will have an average of more than P1 billion each in pork this year, including the annual fund of P200 million. That is an unprecedented amount of pork,” he said.
Of the P65 billion diverted to the pork barrel, P30.3 billion, or almost half, was added to the budget of the Department of Public Works and Highways, where most congressional insertions are hidden.
Subsidies to government corporations were augmented by P3.3 billion to P24.3 billion. Among the recipients is the two-year-old Aurora Special Economic Zone Authority (ASEZA), whose 2010 budget was increased by P650 million to P800 million.
Angara authored the law creating ASEZA, which has barely taken off and is facing a land dispute with farmers. The Angaras are from Aurora.
Another recipient of additional subsidy is Enrile’s Cagayan Economic Zone Authority.
Not all senators, however, are receiving even their regular P200 million fund. Reached by The STAR, senators Benigno Aquino III and Francis Escudero said they are not getting their allocations.
Aquino, who is Liberal Party (LP) presidential candidate, said his running mate, Sen. Mar Roxas, is also not getting his share.
Senators Panfilo Lacson and Jamby Madrigal have deducted their combined P400 million allotments from the P1.5-trillion 2010 budget.
In the wake of reports that Malacañang is releasing not only regular pork barrel allocations but budgetary insertions as well, President Arroyo’s former economic planning secretary Ralph Recto urged her to “obey her own rule.” – Jess Diaz, Perseus Echeminada