It’s time to abolish PDAF: Aquino-A A +A
Friday, August 23, 2013
MANILA (Update) -- President Benigno Aquino III has decided to abolish the priority development assistance fund (PDAF) amid the planned huge rally on Monday against pork barrel.
Aquino in a televised message on Friday said that despite the reforms that his administration has implemented on the use of PDAF, the events of the past weeks have shown that greater change is necessary to fight against those who are determined to abuse the system.
The President was apparently referring to the Commission on Audit (COA) findings wherein multi-billion pork barrel funds were allegedly misused from 2007 to 2009 by diverting the funds to questionable non-government organizations (NGO), such as those linked to fugitive businesswoman Janet Napoles.
"It is time to abolish the PDAF. Now, we will create a new mechanism to address the needs of your constituents and sectors, in a manner that is transparent, methodical and rational, and not susceptible to abuse or corruption," Aquino said while Senate President Franklin Drilon and House Speaker Feliciano Belmonte were standing beside him.
"Together with Senate President Frank Drilon and Speaker Sonny Belmonte, I will make sure that every citizen and sector will get a fair and equitable share of the national budget for health services, scholarships, livelihood generating projects, and local infrastructure," he said.
"Your legislators can identify and suggest projects for your districts, but these will have to go through the budgetary process. If approved, these projects will be earmarked as line items, under the programs of your National Government. In this way, they will be enacted into law as part of our National Budget—every line, every peso, and every project open to scrutiny, as with all other programs of your government," he added.
Aquino enumerated safeguards against corruption such as to continue the practice of requiring that projects to be funded come from a specific menu of qualified projects; and lawmakers cannot include consumable soft projects, such as fertilizers, seeds, medicines, medical kits, dentures, funding for sports fests, training materials, and other such items.
He said results and impact of those projects could not conclusively be identified, and "may only be ghost projects, used only as a source of income by the corrupt."
The President said that the projects could not also be temporary infrastructure, and neither could they be dredging, desilting, regravelling, or asphalt overlay projects.
The funds could not be disbursed to NGOs and certain government-owned and controlled corporations (GOCCs) such as ZNAC Rubber Estate Corp. (ZREC) and National Agribusiness Corp. (Nabcor).
Aquino said these two GOCCs will be abolished, along with others of their kind that have become notorious for anomalies, and which "seem to serve no other purpose aside from being instruments of corruption."
He said that the funds must be limited to the district or sector of the legislator who sponsored it.
He also required that all items should be subject to open and competitive bidding, with all bid notices and awards posted in the Philippine Government Electronic Procurement System or PhilGEPS.
To ensure that the public may monitor the implementation of the projects, he said the government will make sure that each item will be disclosed in the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) and related agency websites and the National Data Portal of the government.
The Chief Executive tasked Budget Secretary Florencio Abad to consult with Belmonte and Drilon to craft the mechanism and to submit it for his approval as soon as possible.
"We are all committed to putting this in place so that, moving forward, allocations per district will be included in the National Budget, starting with the proposed budget of 2014," he said.
For the system to work, Aquino asked for cooperation of the public.
"The information will be there for you to monitor: let us understand and examine it. I am calling on each and every Filipino to do his part, even as we do ours. Together, let us work to strengthen accountability and transparency in government, in order to ensure that public funds are utilized in a just manner—one that truly benefits the Filipino people," he said.
On Thursday, two administration allies filed Senate resolutions scrapping the pork barrel funds of members of Congress.
Senator Alan Peter Cayetano said he filed the resolution as his personal crusade, while Senator Francis Escudero called the abolition of the PDAF since "it has already mutated into a multi-billion racket" allegedly perpetrated by syndicates in both the public and private sectors.
Cayetano called Aquino a "true reformist" for creating reforms and for listening to the people's clamors.
Akbayan party-list lauded Aquino's decision to heed the call of the public to abolish the pork barrel system, but it urged the Chief Executive to ensure "it will not be resurrected in other forms."
"Earlier this week we urged the President that his decision to suspend pork barrel must lead to its complete and unconditional abolition. The people have spoken. Thank you, Mr. President, for listening" said Akbayan party-list Representative Walden Bello.
"The pork barrel must not be resurrected under other names or forms. We must ensure this important victory does not go in vain but that real change is felt by the people," Akbayan national chairperson Risa Hontiveros said in a statement.
Akbayan, however, said that the march at the Luneta Park in Manila against the pork barrel on Monday must proceed as scheduled.
"While the President’s statement is widely appreciated it must not dampen our vigilance to fight corruption. We will march to Luneta to celebrate this important victory, make all the corrupt accountable, and reaffirm our commitment to pursue greater reforms," Bello added.
Other groups expected to join the protest were skeptical.
"Aquino expectedly did not move to abolish presidential pork which much larger than PDAF, at least P450 billion by some estimates. Aquino again misleads the nation with promises of reform while retaining the very corrupt system of patronage politics that pork represents," said Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan) secretary general Renato Reyes.
For its part, Center Law Philippines led by lawyer Harry Roque said the public should not be deceived as the pork barrel system may thrive under a different name.
"To completely do away with pork barrel, what is required is to abolish all lump sum appropriations. Under the scheme announced by the President, legislators will continue to identify project. This may mean that legislator's discretion on project identification and implementation may remain," it said.
To qualify for funding under the new guidelines, Budget Secretary Florencio Abad explained the project proposed by lawmakers must satisfy the stringent rules prescribed by the President.
"So funding is not automatic," Abad stressed in a statement. "No more lump sum. If it is not used, then it will help reduce our deficit."
He added that the allocation for pork barrel of the lawmakers' PDAF provided in the proposed 2014 budget submitted to Congress will be deleted by way of an amendment.
"It will be deleted by way of an amendment. There will be no more PDAF item in the budget," Abad said.
As substitute to PDAF, Senator Bam Aquino proposed a P10-billion People's Fund that will come from 5 percent of an individual's income tax, which will be used for projects by the national or local government, political parties and civil society organizations.
Under the bill, the Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR) shall establish the mechanism that would enable individual taxpayers to select beneficiaries upon filing of their annual income tax returns.
An inter-agency committee led by the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) shall determine the eligibility of organizations and initiatives, and set the conditions, guidelines, and reporting requirements for the receipt and use of the funds by the benefitting organizations.
Meanwhile, House Speaker Belmonte admitted Friday that deliberation on the proposed P2.3-trillion budget for 2014 could be delayed following the President's decision to scrap the PDAF of lawmakers.
In an interview in Malacanang after the President's announcement to abolish PDAF, Belmonte said that he would ask the congressmen to prepare their own list of projects to be implemented in their respective districts or sectors so that when the budget hearing resumes, they would be ready.
"Ngayon pa lang piliin na ninyo kung saan nyo ilalagay ang inyong mga projects within the menu na binanggit ni Presidente at i-itemize na natin dito sa 2014 budget," he said.
The President has said that a new mechanism will be put in place on determining the projects to be proposed by the legislators.
Asked of the possible effect on the budget deliberation of Aquino's decision to abolish PDAF, Belmonte said there will be some delays on the budget approval.
"Tatagal ng konti ang budget deliberation. We have to accept that mangyayari 'yun because right now PDAF is just one line there in the budget or a few lines. Ngayon mapipilitan kaming mga congressmen...nananawagan ako sa mga congressman, ngayon pa lang ilista na ninyo, humingi kayo ng suggestions sa mga barangay or mayors. Gumawa kayo ng listahan ng projects na gusto nyong gawin," he said.
But Belmonte said that Congress will find ways to still pass the proposed budget within the year.
"We have to make our best. Even if we have to meet more than the usual number of days, we will do it at ng mayari (ang budget) by the end of the year," he said.
Under the present PDAF system, senator and congressmen were allotted P200 million and P70 million each, respectively. (SDR/Virgil Lopez/Kathrina Alvarez/CPT/Sunnex)