House vows to work harder even without PDAF

By Paolo Romero, The Philippine Star

Posted at Jan 04 2014 09:23 AM | Updated as of Jan 04 2014 05:23 PM

MANILA, Philippines - Leaders of the House of Representatives believe the loss of the of pork barrel will not diminish the vigor of lawmakers in drafting laws and exercising their oversight functions.

Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr. said re-electionists could be distracted from their legislative duties in the remaining two years of the 16th Congress.

“Next year will be more trying, closer to 2016 and without PDAF (Priority Development Assistance Fund),” he said.

“But I’m confident we can manage and show it’s not all about PDAF and that we are responsible legislators.”

Deputy Speaker Giorgidi Aggabao said the loss of the PDAF has not dampened the resolve of lawmakers in discharging their duties.

“Many are resigned and have accepted the fact that PDAF is a goner,” he said. “I think the challenge for the House is drawing up a legislative agenda in the absence of any explicit direction from the Palace.”

Cavite Rep. Elpidio Barzaga said the loss of the PDAF would prompt lawmakers to focus on their legislative and oversight functions.

“Congress would be more assertive of their power of the purse, and there would be more detailed budget hearings,” he said.

Barzaga said the services and assistance that lawmakers give their constituents would have to be administered by concerned agencies like the Department of Health and the Commission on Higher Education.

“Without the PDAF, legislators have to rely on the President for the projects needed by their districts on which projects are to be included in the national expenditures program of the government,” he said.

However, Senior Deputy Minority Leader and Bayan Muna party-list Rep. Neri Colmenares said work in Congress would suffer without the PDAF.

“It would be hard for the House leadership to fast-track its priority legislation without the pork barrel king’s blessing considering that he (President) now has all the pork,” he said.

House leaders have also long been calling for the convening of the Legislative-Executive Development Advisory Council (LEDAC) to come up with a common set of priority bills.

However, Malacañang was cool to convening the LEDAC and not one meeting was held since January last year.

A LEDAC would greatly help in the enactment of vital bills, Aggabao said.

More protests vs ‘pork’

Militant workers are gearing up for more protest actions against the pork barrel.

In a statement, Roger Soluta, Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU) secretary general, said the 2014 national budget is still filled with pork, contrary to the government’s claim.

“We vow to intensify our campaign against the pork barrel system and corruption in the Aquino government this year,“ he said. “At a time of soaring prices and intense calamities, the Filipino workers and people need their taxes to go to social services, not to the pockets of big politicians.”

Lawmakers can still access the priority development assistance funds (PDAF) through recommendations as the government had merely included them in the budgets of various government agencies, he added.

Soluta said the P2.3-trillion national budget still includes presidential pork “comprised of Special Purpose Funds (P283 billion), Unprogrammed Funds (P139 billion), Rehabilitation and Reconstruction Program funds (P20 billion) and Personnel Benefits fund and the Reconstruction and Rehabilitation fund (P80 billion).”

“Aquino approved the 2014 national budget like a thief in the night, when everyone was trying to enjoy the holidays. He clearly does not want this national budget scrutinized because it still contains a lot of pork barrel funds,” he said.

Soluta said Aquino obviously wants to retain the pork barrel system, contrary to the demand of a huge and still growing number of Filipinos.

KMU members marched to Chino Roces Bridge across Malacañang in Manila yesterday to dramatize their protest against the passage of the 2014 national budget. – With Mayen Jaymalin