MANILA - Sen. Jinggoy Estrada has realigned his P200-million Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) to three local government units (LGUs), with P100 million going to Manila where his father is mayor.
The STAR found this out yesterday when it made inquiries as to why there is a total of P200 million in the 2014 national budget in financial subsidies specifically for Manila, Caloocan City and Lla-lo town in Cagayan.
Caloocan City and Lla-lo received P50 million each.
Sen. Francis Escudero, Senate finance committee head and co-chairman of the conference committee on the budget, did not respond to a text message-query.
But his co-chairman and House counterpart, Davao City Rep. Isidro Ungab, said the subsidies came from Estrada’s pork barrel.
“These came from his PDAF, which he realigned, with the approval of the Senate finance committee and the Senate plenary,” Ungab said.
He said the realignments were introduced during the Senate-House conference on the final version of this year’s national budget.
Sen. Estrada defended yesterday his move to realign his P200-million PDAF to Manila, Caloocan City and Lla-lo.
“There is nothing wrong with it. It’s (part of) assistance to local government units,” Estrada said.
Estrada noted that he does not see any legal impediment in his decision to realign the P200-million PDAF under the 2014 budget.
He maintained that the amendment abides with the Supreme Court’s recent decision disallowing post intervention by lawmakers pertaining to the PDAF under the national budget.
Estrada admitted proposing the “amendments,” saying the Supreme Court, in striking down the PDAF as unconstitutional, has barred post-budget enactment changes and intervention from lawmakers but not when the spending bill is pending in Congress.
Estrada’s father, former President Joseph Estrada, is the incumbent mayor of Manila.
Caloocan Mayor Oscar Malapitan is a member of Vice President Jejomar Binay’s United Nationalist Alliance, to which the Estradas belong.
Sen. Estrada is facing plunder charges before the Office of the Ombudsman for allegedly misusing his PDAF allocations amounting to hundreds of millions. He is accused of receiving kickbacks.
Chairman Grace Pulido-Tan of the Commission on Audit (COA) has claimed that the senator once recommended certain auditors for the city of Manila.
In unearthing irregularities in the use of pork barrel allocations, the COA discovered similar anomalies in the use of funds given by certain lawmakers to LGUs as financial assistance.
The COA thus recommended that the grant of such assistance by lawmakers be stopped.
A member of the House appropriations committee said the insertion of appropriations in the national budget for financial subsidies for cities, towns or provinces is no different from giving PDAF to these LGUs.
“In short, what cannot be done through PDAF is now being done through insertions in the national budget,” he said.
In signing the 2014 budget bill into law, President Aquino did not veto the P205 million in senatorial insertions, but subjected them to “conditional implementation.”
Budgetary insertions, increases or realignments are traditionally treated as part of the pork barrel of the senator or congressman who made them.
Aquino gave Budget Secretary Florencio Abad the discretion on the release of the P205 million if releasing the funds would promote equity and fairness in the distribution of financial assistance among LGUs.
The assistance is on top of whatever amount of internal revenue allotments, or share from national taxes, that Manila, Caloocan and Lal-lo will get this year.
The President had proposed a subsidy fund of P200 million “to support the various priority programs and projects of LGUs,” without specifying the beneficiaries.
The House of Representatives adopted Aquino’s proposal in its version of the budget.
However, during the budget conference, the Escudero-led Senate panel, with the agreement of the House contingent, increased the fund to P405 million, specifically naming Manila, Caloocan City and Lal-lo, Cagayan as recipients of the additional P200 million.
Mayor Estrada said yesterday that the P100-million PDAF realigned by his son to Manila is badly needed by the city government.
Although he was not officially informed of the realignment, Estrada said that it is a highly welcome development.
“Thank God. We need it very badly. I inherited a bankrupt city government with a P3.5-billion budget deficit left by my predecessor (former mayor Alfredo Lim). This is documented and the Commission on Audit has confirmed that,” Estrada said.
Estrada said the P100-million additional fund for the government, though, is not enough to cover the city government’s unpaid water bills to the Maynilad Water Services, Inc. left by Lim amounting to P613.6 million, and the Manila Electric Co. (Meralco) amounting to P57.7 million.
Senators Estrada and Ramon Revilla Jr. have been preparing their counter-affidavits on the plunder complaint filed by the justice department against them before the Ombudsman.
Estrada said he and his legal team are finalizing his counter-affidavit which he intends to submit today or anytime this week.
“My lawyers are preparing the defense. We are actually meeting later (Tuesday afternoon) so that we can comply with the Ombudsman’s order,” Estrada said.
Estrada maintained that he should not be charged for plunder nor pork barrel misuse, laying the blame on implementing agencies that channeled the funds to bogus nongovernment organizations.
Revilla has been mulling his next steps, a member of his office staff said, which includes the delivery of a privilege speech when Congress resumes session on Jan. 20.
Revilla’s lawyers are also preparing their defense in a bid to have the charges dismissed.
Senate Minority Leader Juan Ponce Enrile, also facing plunder charges for the misuse of PDAF, had formally submitted his counter-affidavit to the Ombudsman and disputed the plunder complaint, saying the charges were baseless.
Revilla and Estrada previously noted that the government’s main witness, Benhur Luy, had admitted in the Senate hearings that he and other associates forged documents to be able to get allocations out of the lawmakers’ pork barrel funds.
Luy, a relative and former employee of alleged pork barrel scam brains Janet Lim-Napoles, said he and his other colleagues doctored documents and even faked signatures of some individuals to work for the release of pork barrel funds from the budget department.
After the Department of Budget and Management released the allocations, Napoles distributed the shares of lawmakers.
According to Luy, senators tagged in the scam received about 50 percent of the pork barrel released through fake NGOs.
Enrile, Revilla and Estrada have all disputed Luy’s allegations, denying any misuse in their pork barrel allocations from 2007 to 2010. With Christina Mendez, Jose Rodel Clapano