Noynoy: Palace impounding my ‘pork’
By Jess Diaz
The Philippine Star
MANILA, Philippines – Sen. Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III said yesterday Malacañang has been impounding his P200-million annual pork barrel fund allocation since he was elected to the Senate in 2007.
“My last was in 2005, which was a SARO (Special Allotment Release Order) for hospitals. None afterwards. Mar (Roxas), I understand, is also not getting any,” he said when asked if he and Roxas received their annual pork barrel allocations.
Aquino, Liberal Party’s presidential candidate, was still a Tarlac congressman in 2005. Senate colleague Mar Roxas is his running mate.
Reached for comment, Sen. Francis Escudero said he, too, is not receiving his allocation, while Sen. Alan Peter Cayetano said most of his funds are withheld by Malacañang.
Two other senators – Panfilo Lacson and Jamby Madrigal – have not been availing themselves of their P200 million in annual pork barrel funds. They deducted their combined P400 million from this year’s P1.5-trillion national budget.
President Arroyo has been releasing funds to her allies in both the Senate and the House of Representatives to boost their election campaign. The releases include the regular pork barrel allocations and congressional initiatives or budgetary insertions.
Unlike Aquino, his Nacionalista Party rival, Sen. Manuel Villar, has apparently been receiving his funds and had in fact been able to make insertions in the budget.
Last year, he got into trouble for his “double insertion” of a P200-million appropriation for the controversial C-5 road extension that a subsequent Senate investigation found to be traversing some subdivisions owned by his companies.
The controversy cost Villar the Senate presidency. His successor, Sen. Juan Ponce Enrile, who was finance committee chairman, revealed that Villar had asked for the P200-million insertion.
Aquino’s revelation that he has not been receiving his funds belies the statement of Budget Secretary Joaquin Lagonera that there are no political considerations in the release of pork barrel funds.
Lagonera made the statement after at least two congressmen – former Speaker Jose de Venecia of Pangasinan and Rufus Rodriguez of Cagayan de Oro City – complained that Malacañang had impounded the money allotted for their districts.
“I have been following up the release of our funds, but Secretary Lagonera and Palace liaison officer Undersecretary Bernie Sayo have been giving me the runaround. Lagonera would not even talk to me. They don’t like my face because I belong to the opposition,” Rodriguez said.
“Obviously, Mrs. Arroyo chooses to play politics with the welfare of our people even while she is about to leave office” he said.
Rodriguez, a neophyte congressman, is a member of former President Joseph Estrada’s Pwersa ng Masang Pilipino.
In the wake of Aquino’s revelation and the congressmen’s complaints of discrimination, Liberal Party senatorial candidate Ralph Recto urged Malacañang not to “color-code” fund releases.
“The Palace cannot subject one group to pork abstinence while ordering a pork feast for its friends. Nowhere in the budget law does it state that pork distribution be color-coded, that servings for the Greens, Orange, Yellows, and Reds vary in size” he said.
By Green, Orange, Yellow, and Red, Recto, a former senator, was obviously referring to Gilberto Teodoro Jr. of Lakas-Kampi, Villar, Aquino, and former President Estrada.
He said if pork barrel funds were equally distributed, they would “not become a handicapping tool that will provide electoral stimulus to only a few.”
At the same time, Recto urged Mrs. Arroyo to “obey her own rule” in dispensing funds, which is “that the release of congressional insertions be contingent on the availability of revenues.”
He said there is no justification for the reported release of insertions since the government has just posted a P110- billion budget deficit for the first quarter.
He said if so-called congressional initiatives are funded through borrowings and not tax collections, that would bloat the deficit from P293 billion to P358 billion, should the full P65 billion in insertions be released.
Before approving the 2010 budget, senators and congressmen diverted P65 billion in debt payment funds to their pork barrel.
According to a member of the House appropriations committee, one-third of that huge amount or P21.6 billion is allocated for senators and P43.4 billion for congressmen.
“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 regular allocation of P200 million. That is an unprecedented amount of pork,” the lawmaker said.