Miriam proposes phase-out of 'pork barrel' by 2016

(Updated 7:05 p.m., Aug. 1) Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago has filed a resolution seeking to give less and less "pork barrel" funds to lawmakers until these discretionary funds are completely scrapped by 2016.

Santiago proposed that the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) for each member of Congress be slashed by half next year, and then once again by half in 2015.

By 2016, the end of President Benigno Aquino III's term in office, Santiago said the PDAF should be completely "phased out."

“This will phase out the pork barrel, so that the gradual abolition will be acceptable to Congress members,” Santiago said in a statement Wednesday.

At least three senators — Bam Aquino, Antonio Trillanes IV, and Grace Poe — have said they wouldn't mind abolishing the pork barrel, which came to public attention recently following accusations that billions of it went to ghost projects.

Second best solution

Santiago described her proposal as "the second best solution" to resolving issues concerning the PDAF, since it "will give senators and congressmen time to adjust to the new rules."

"Senators and congressmen are expected to pass laws and exercise oversight functions over the Executive Department’s implementation of existing laws. We are not expected to build roads, bridges, and other infrastructure projects," Santiago said.

Each member of the House of Representatives currently gets P70 million in PDAF while each senator gets P200 million to enable them to categorically name priority projects for government funding.

If Santiago's proposal is approved, each senator will get P100 million next year and P50 million in 2015. Each House member, meanwhile, will have P35 million next year and P15 million in 2015.

Palace: Let Congress handle it

At a press briefing Thursday, presidential spokesperson Edwin Lacierda said they defer Santiago's proposal to "the wisdom of the legislature."

But he said the Department of Budget and Management has already proposed guidelines or a "menu" on how to utilize the PDAF.

He also said that there is a recommendation from the Department of Social Welfare and Development to accredit civil society groups and non-government organizations to avoid being duped by bogus groups.

"We continue to find ways. We continue to find measures (on) how to ensure the proper use of the PDAF," Lacierda said.

'Feasible'

Senate President Franklin Drilon expressed support for Santiago's proposal, saying it might be better to give the PDAF directly to line agencies.

"I support that because from the very start, I said na ako’y sang-ayon na alisin ang PDAF. The proposal of Miriam appears to be feasible," Drilon told reporters.

Senate Majority Leader Alan Peter Cayetano likewise said he is in favor of the gradual scrapping of the "pork barrel" funds.

"Hindi natin pwedeng i-sweep under the rag itong issue ng pork. Napakahalaga na mayroon kaming mga senador at congressman ng moral ascendancy. Whether to abolish it or whether it's a line item, I support that," Cayetano said in a separate interview.

The issue of "pork barrel" allocations once again came into the spotlight after the Philippine Daily Inquirer ran a series of reports detailing how fake groups supposedly used the "pork barrel" of some senators and House members to fund ghost projects worth P10 billion.

In her resolution, Santiago also proposed that NGOs, local government units and government-owned and -controlled corporations be disallowed from getting "pork barrel" allocations.

The resolution also suggested that the PDAF be "strictly" used for infrastructure projects, and that "pork" releases be limited to national government agencies.

Santiago also want to discontinue the practice of some lawmakers to allocate PDAF to scholarships, saying these should be given by state colleges and universities.

On Tuesday, Senator Paolo Benigno "Bam" Aquino IV said it will be "unfair" to deprive NGOs of government assistance on the basis of the alleged racket of some bogus groups to use "pork barrel" funds in ghost projects.

He said most civil service groups "do good work" in the country. — with Kimberly Jane Tan/KBK/RSJ/HS, GMA News

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