Lawmakers to get P65M on top of 'pork'

10/09/10 - DISTRICT lawmakers will get an additional P65 million fund for disbursement in national roads and bridges on top of their P70 million Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) or pork barrel.

The P50 million will come from the lump sum fund of the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) while the P15 million will be sourced from the road user’s tax.

But the additional allocation from road user’s tax could reach P25 million, said Representative Ben Evardone (lone district, Eastern Samar).

This after House Speaker Feliciano Belmonte said the national expenditure program (NEP) for 2011 indicates that "certain amounts" will be spent by the DPWH in various districts.

For instance, the first district of Pampanga will get a budget of P6 million while the second district, where former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo serves as congresswoman, will receive P2.2 billion.

Most of the districts in Metro Manila will get less than P50 million.

"We have not gone over the lump sum, I suppose part of this money that is being talked about now will have to come from within the budget of DPWH," Belmonte said.

Although the DPWH has the power to identify the projects, district lawmakers have the say on where the funds should be appropriated.

A party-list lawmaker expressed dismay over the issue, saying the allocation is in exchange for the approval of the controversial P21 billion conditional cash transfer, the flagship project of the Aquino government.

Party-list congressmen will not get the additional P65 million.

"I am shocked that the DBM agreed to give all district representatives additional funds from the 2011 DPWH lump sums, as admitted by the House leadership.

This is on top of existing pork barrel funds," said Bayan Muna Representative Teddy Casino.

"Is this the price Malacanang wants to pay to ensure the smooth approval of its preferred pork: the conditional cash transfers? Biglang lumiko and tuwid na daan pagdating sa Kongreso," he added.

On Friday, after an all-party caucus at the House, the Speaker said "despite occasional misgivings", they are keen on approving the CCT under the budget for the Department of Social Welfare and Development.

"It is a centerpiece of the Aquino (government) and I think we owe it to him. After all, it is roughly a doubling of the amount spent by the previous administration on a similar project," he added.

Earlier, a party-list lawmaker said that congressmen will be voting separately on the CCT program as this raised many questions.

But committee on appropriations chair Joseph Emilio Abaya clarified that they will fight for the approval of the CCT and that no specific voting in a separate issue will be done.

PDAF menu

Meanwhile, lawmakers also discussed the menu of their pork barrel allocations.

A four-page menu cited that the P70 million pork funds may be used for rural electrification, academic buildings, scholarships, medical missions, constructions of roads and bridges, assistance to displaced families, small and medium enterprises, among others.

The menu for 2011 however rejects the enumeration set by the executive because the congressmen found it a "little bit restrictive", the Speaker said.

"We came out with a new menu which still promotes transparency and accountability but as was the original intention anyway, gives a little leeway for public services that can be funded out of the PDAF," Belmonte added.

In the new menu, the Speaker said PDAF allocations set for lawmaker's foundation will not be allowed.

Pork funds to local government units, which will be identified as intelligence funds, are also not allowed.

"It will have a direct impact, hindi yung masyadong diffused. Here are the purposes for which it can be used and there is transparency here in the things that a constituent can expect," Belmonte said.

Deputy Minority Leader Danilo Suarez lauded the new scheme, saying that it is more pro-poor than the policy of the previous administration.

These as lawmakers are allowed to extend more assistance to their constituents.

"I think the Speaker, the leadership managed to convince the Secretary of DBM to be somewhat soft on our funds," he added.

Meanwhile, Representative Gabriel Quisumbing (sixth district, Cebu) lauded both the executive department for working for a budget that is "responsive to the needs of the country".

He said Belmonte really took time to listen to the concerns of the lawmakers from Visayas and Mindanao when they protested on the inequitable allocation of the national budget.

Plenary discussions on the passage of the 2011 General Appropriations Act will continue on Monday.

The House aimed at passing the budget bill on its second reading before it goes on recess on October 15 (Sun Star)

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