MANILA - The Department of Budget and Management (DBM) may withhold the P100 million in financial assistance that Sen. Jinggoy Estrada has given to Manila, where his father is the mayor, out of his P200-million Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) allocation for this year.
Also in danger of being impounded are similar subsidies amounting to P50 million for Caloocan City and another P50 million for the town of Lla-lo in Cagayan.
Manila, Caloocan and Lla-lo are the only three local government units (LGUs) specifically mentioned in the P2.265-trillion national budget as recipients of specific amounts of assistance from the national government.
Estrada’s father, former President Joseph Estrada who is now mayor of Manila, said the city government would not beg for the funds.
“So withhold it. What do they want? They want us to plead? They can withhold it any time,” the mayor said.
Budget Secretary Florencio Abad told The STAR in a text message yesterday that the P200 million for the three LGUs was an amendment in the budget “introduced by the Senate and approved in the bicam (bicameral conference on the spending bill).”
“We do not know why it was introduced and why for the three particular LGUs. That is why the amendment was placed under conditional implementation, as we need to know the answers to those questions,” he said.
He said he would have to comply with President Aquino’s veto message when he signed the budget bill into law and which subjected the subsidies inserted by the Senate to “conditional implementation.”
In his 2014 budget proposal, Aquino has included a P200-million LGU support fund without specifying any particular beneficiary.
The Senate increased the fund to P405 million, allocating P200 million out of the additional P205 million to Manila, Caloocan City and Lla-lo.
According to Davao City Rep. Isidro Ungab, who heads the appropriations committee of the House of Representatives, the subsidies were realignments made by Sen. Estrada from his PDAF.
The Supreme Court (SC) has declared the PDAF, or congressional pork barrel, as unconstitutional. Lawmakers, however, were not prohibited from realigning their allocations.
Estrada defended his insertions, saying the SC decision allowed him to realign his PDAF.
In his seven-page veto message to the Senate and the House of Representatives, Aquino said the grant of subsidies for Manila, Caloocan and Lla-lo “may not be consistent with the objectives and prioritization of the Local Government Support Fund.”
“Accordingly, I hereby direct the DBM to issue the guidelines in the equal availment of the fund by LGUs. Indeed, national government support ought to be responsive to the actual requirements of LGUs in the interest of genuine local development,” he said.
There are at least 80 provinces, 140 cities and 1,600 towns throughout the country.
Eastern Samar Rep. Ben Evardone, a House appropriations committee vice chairman, said the LGU support fund may be intended to help poor towns with small internal revenue allotments (IRA), or share from national taxes.
“There are many of these towns in the provinces. They need to be helped by the national government,” he said.
The P200 million in subsidies intended for Manila, Caloocan and Lla-lo is in addition to their IRA allocations.
Last year, Manila received P1.740 billion in IRA, while Caloocan’s share amounted to P1.539 billion. The largest recipient in Metro Manila and perhaps throughout the country was Quezon City with a share of P2.815 billion.
The town of Lla-lo received P115.9 million.
Senator defends PDAF realignment
Senate finance committee chairman Sen. Francis Escudero defended yesterday the decision of the Senate to allow some of their colleagues to realign their respective P200-million PDAF under the 2014 budget.
Escudero said the discretion is an individual decision of the senators that was eventually adopted during plenary.
“Remember what I said then that I will respect the individual decision of senators in the caucus regarding the PDAF,” Escudero said, noting that the budget was P3.2-billion less because 15 senators decided to delete their pork barrel under the 2014 budget.
Senators Estrada, Ramon Revilla Jr., and Lito Lapid were among those who opted to retain their respective P200-million in PDAF.
“The remaining nine senators allocated (their PDAF) to various areas, although most placed them for calamity fund,” Escudero said.
If the P100-million allocated for Manila will be released by the DBM, Escudero said it would be another matter.
Once released, Escudero said Mayor Estrada should be accountable for its use.
Sen. Estrada seems to be the only senator to put his PDAF as assistance to local government units, Escudero said, noting that the others opted to put their pork barrel allocations to government hospitals, schools and public works.
“So we respected that, but regardless, whatever we did with respect to their wishes, there is no post-enactment intervention,” Escudero explained.
Escudero said that there were also some congressmen who placed PDAF to the LGUs of their choice.
He pointed out that while some lawmakers proposed amendments to the 2014 budget, these should not be seen as budget insertions.
Escudero said even Estrada’s decision to augment the budget of the “bankrupt” city of Manila should be a “non-issue.”
“For me, it is a non-issue. The issue is whether they will use the funds properly or not. What is important is that there should be no post-intervention,” he added.
Guidelines for social benefits
Cavite Rep. Elpidio Barzaga said the P2.265-trillion national budget is now in force and funds for displaced beneficiaries of lawmakers have already been allocated to concerned agencies, including the Departments of Health (DOH), Labor (DOLE) and, Social Welfare and Development (DWSD), and the Commission on Higher Education (CHED).
He said the agencies must immediately issue guidelines and mechanisms on how the public could now avail of the social benefits such as medical assistance, scholarship, burial, skills training previously provided for under the PDAF system, which the Supreme Court had declared unconstitutional.
“Until now, there are no clear rules and regulations and our constituents are inquiring. Part of the SC ruling is for the executive to find solutions to ensure that the services offered by the lawmakers’ PDAF will continue,” Barzaga said.
He said he was hoping that their constituents would not be left waiting in vain by the concerned departments and agencies, as many of them are in dire need of medical services.
Congress removed the P25-billion PDAF from the 2014 budget and distributed the same for scholarship programs and assistance to poor students; health care, by providing hospitalization and medical assistance to indigent patients; assistance to persons in crisis by extending medical, transportation, burial and food assistance; employment, by strengthening and providing allocation for the Special Program for Employment of Students (SPES), Tulong Panghanapbuhay sa Ating Disadvantaged (TUPAD) and Training for Employment Program.
Congress has also realigned money to fund the supplemental budget for the rehabilitation of areas badly hit by calamities such as the Super Typhoon Yolanda, the earthquake in Central Visayas and the siege of Zamboanga City by the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) of Nur Misuari last year.
Barzaga said at least 248,072 scholars from 73 legislative districts were affected by the SC’s decision to stop the release of the remaining P14.27-billion PDAF for the second half of 2013.
Ifugao Rep. Teddy Baguilat Jr. and Marikina City Rep. Romero Quimbo also chided the agencies for not coming up with guidelines on how to distribute to beneficiaries the additional P25-billion funding.
They received information that CHED promised to accommodate congressional scholars but there was no word how it will be done.
“We are hoping that the scholars can be accommodated as many of them have already stopped schooling,” Quimbo said.
This year’s approved P891-million budget for the Cagayan Economic Zone Authority (CEZA) is not part of the PDAF of Senate Minority Leader Juan Ponce Enrile.
Joyce Jaime, CEZA public information office, said that their agency’s outlay this year is exclusively for the continued development of the special economic zone and free port in Cagayan.
Earlier, Enrile’s political adversary, Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago, described the CEZA funding as Enrile’s pork barrel.
CEZA is a government-owned and controlled corporation under the office of the President that is based in Santa Ana, Cagayan. Enrile was the author of the law that created CEZA, located near Enrile’s hometown of Gonzaga.
Despite Santiago’s appeal for the Palace to veto the appropriation, President Aquino retained the P891- million allocation for CEZA in the 2014 national budget.
CEZA said the bulk of its appropriation this year goes to the dredging of the navigational channel at Port Irene to accommodate larger vessels and to meet international standards.
The National Economic and Development Authority in the region said that the navigational channel is one of the region’s flagship projects to sustain CEZA’s economic gains not only for Cagayan or the region but the whole country as well.
CEZA also belied allegations of Santiago that the special economic zone has become a haven for smuggling and illegal gambling. With Christina Mendez, Jose Rodel Clapano, Paolo Romero, Charlie Lagasca