Only PDAF, not pork barrel, abolished-A A +A
Friday, August 23, 2013
FIRST things first. What President Noynoy Aquino announced yesterday was the abolition of the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF). He didn’t say the pork barrel system would be abolished.
The PDAF name will be abolished but its basic logic, which the President himself defined as giving lawmakers the power to identify projects that the local government units cannot afford, remains.
Remember the Countrywide Development Fund (CDF) of old (circa 1990)? It became the PDAF in 2000. Expect a new name to surface for the “new” brew that PNoy, Senate President Franklin Drilon and House Speaker Feliciano Belmonte are concocting.
I read former whistle-blower Heidi Mendoza, now one of the top officials of the Commission on Audit (COA), being quoted in the article, “Pork Barrel-A Continuing Poison in the System” that came out in 2011 in the website, Philippine Public Transparency Reporting Project (PPTRP).
Mendoza said thus: “For as long as the lawmakers have their say on the utilization of funds instead of only legislating laws, the PDAF will always be abused.” So the culprit is lawmakers veering away from their task of legislating and focusing on getting funds for pet projects.
A genuine abolition of the pork barrel system is therefore taking away the power of members of Congress to identify projects and forcing them to attend solely to their task of legislation.
Under the new setup that the President outlined to replace that of PDAF, legislators will still be identifying projects for their constituencies. The only change is that the process will be more stringent. Still, pork barrel remains, overall.
Here’s what PNoy 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.”
By the way, in a paper titled “Understanding the Pork Barrel” written by former House speaker Prospero Nograles and former congressman Edcel Lagman, they mentioned the same thing about the PDAF, that it had “definitive parameters, equal apportionments, built-in accountability and clear transparency.”
And yet P10 billion in public funds, if we are to believe the figure announced by probers, was still lost to grafters in the many years that the PDAF was put in place.
Why is “identifying projects” the spine of the “modern” version of the pork barrel system?
State Auditor Annabeth Mendoza, described by the PPTRP article as an audit team leader of COA, said that most of the time, the problem lies in legislators going beyond simply identifying projects.
"To some extent the lawmakers are the one selecting the contractors--although we do not have documents to prove this," she added.
The power to select contractors for “hard” projects like infrastructure, allows the concerned legislator to collect at the very least the so-called SOP or commissions, which is a certain percentage of the project cost.
But the recently exposed “P10 billion” PDAF scam shows that the bigger money comes from “soft” projects because legislators are also allowed to recommend the PDAF beneficiaries, and if they are bogus non-government organizations a big chunk of the pork barrel can be pocketed.
There’s one thing positive in PNoy’s PDAF abolition announcement yesterday: it means Malacañang is feeling the rumbling that is the protest action on August 26, Monday.
The movement against the pork barrel system has won the initial skirmish. Kudos!
Published in the Sun.Star Cebu newspaper on August 24, 2013.