Palace: Special request needed for senators' fund

By Aurea Calica, The Philippine Star

Posted at Jan 10 2014 04:07 AM | Updated as of Jan 10 2014 12:07 PM

MANILA, Philippines - A special request is needed before the budget department could release the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) of lawmakers, which had been realigned to several agencies under this year’s national budget, Malacañang said yesterday.

In a press briefing, Presidential Communications Operations Office Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr. also clarified that the P100 million in financial assistance that Sen. Jinggoy Estrada has given to Manila, where his father, former President Joseph Estrada is mayor, has not been withheld.

Estrada also gave similar subsidies amounting to P50 million for Caloocan City and another P50 million for the town of Lal-lo in Cagayan out of his P200-million PDAF.

Coloma cited Budget Secretary Florencio Abad’s explanation that under an amendment introduced during the Senate deliberations, “by procedure… the amount… will not be automatically released as it will require a special budget request.”

Abad had also noted that he would have to comply with President Aquino’s veto message, which subjected the subsidies inserted by the Senate to “conditional implementation.”

Coloma said Malacañang does not see anything wrong in the realignment of the PDAF or pork barrel allocation of lawmakers.

Coloma said Congress is only exercising its power over the purse with the amendments it introduced in the General Appropriations Act.

He said the executive in turn only implements the law, including the Supreme Court ruling regarding the PDAF.

Coloma added the agencies to which the PDAF of lawmakers was realigned would have to implement the projects without the participation of the lawmakers.

‘Nothing improper’

Estrada said there is nothing improper about his decision to realign 50 percent of his PDAF to Manila.

“I am not giving it to my father, I am giving it to the people of Manila,” he said. “Sobrang malisyoso, grabe. They are imputing malice on it.”

He appealed to the DBM (Department of Budget and Management) not to impound the funds, saying Manila needs it because it was left bankrupt by the previous administration.

Estrada also stressed that the realignment of his PDAF was an amendment in the budget law that went through the legislative process.

“As a senator, as a legislator, that is within our powers to amend and review the budget, it is not as if it was a clandestine move,” he said.

“It was approved by the Senate plenary in the bicam, and ratified by both houses,” he added.

Meanwhile, Senate finance committee chairman Sen. Francis Escudero also defended Estrada’s decision.

“Should we discriminate one because he is a relative of another? What happens if the LGU really needs the assistance,” he said.

He added that assistance to LGUs has long been a feature of the budget, and was not Estrada’s creation.

Asked whether Estrada’s allocation of P100 million for Manila was ethical and proper, Escudero said he would leave the ethical issue to Estrada.

“Whether or not it is proper will depend on where/how it will be utilized for the benefit of the people and will be best addressed by the DBM and COA (Commission on Audit),” he said in a text message.

However, Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV, who also realigned his PDAF for the scholarship, medical assistance and barracks for soldiers, however, finds Estrada’s move improper.

“Kakapalan na yan (It’s shameful),” he said. “He should explain why he gave the allocation for his father. That’s the big problem especially since he is under fire for pocketing his PDAF.”

Itemize PDAF realignments

Amid the controversy over Estrada’s PDAF for LGUs, the Senate and the House of Representatives were urged to itemize and publish the P22-billion PDAF realignments they made in this year’s national budget.

Cavite Rep. Elpidio Barzaga Jr. said the two chambers of Congress should publish or post in their websites in detail where the realigned PDAF went for the sake of transparency.

He said projects, their locations, proponent-lawmakers, funding and implementing agencies should be identified so the people and interested civil society groups would know and can check the progress of such projects.

“We should expect the people to report any irregularity in project implementation,” he said.

He said House members had been transparent in their realignments and even came up with a detailed listing of infrastructure projects in every congressional district.

“That listing is now part of the budget of the Department of Public Works and Highways, which is perhaps the most detailed and transparent part of the national budget,” he said.

The President has included in the 2014 budget proposal the P25-billion pork barrel for lawmakers even before the SC struck down the PDAF as unconstitutional.

The Senate and the House opted not to take it out from the budget but to realign most of it. Fifteen senators led by Senate President Franklin Drilon gave up their P200-million allocations by deducting P3 billion from the PDAF, reducing it to P22 billion.

Aside from Estrada, those who realigned their allocations were Senators Miriam Defensor-Santiago, Ramon Revilla Jr., Alan Peter Cayetano, Pia Cayetano, Joseph Victor Ejercito, Ralph Recto, Lito Lapid and Trillanes.

Escudero said Recto, Santiago, Ejercito and the two Cayetanos gave their combined allocations of P1 billion to the calamity fund.

He said Revilla, Lapid and Trillanes allocated their funds to schools, hospitals and public works projects, while Estrada opted to use his as financial subsidy to Manila, Caloocan City and Lal-lo town in Cagayan. Lapid reportedly gave P193 million to the DPWH, P5 million to the Department of Health (DOH) and P2 million to the Department of Social Welfare and Development.

Revilla allocated P84.5 million to the DPWH, P75 million to DOH and P35 million to the University of the Philippines.

Trillanes, on the other hand, gave P102.45 million to the DOH, P36.2 million to the Commission on Higher Education, P27.95 million to the Philippine Army, P22 million to the Philippine Navy, P7.4 million to the Philippine National Police and P4 million to the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority.

Jinggoy files counter-affidavit

In a related development, Estrada filed his counter-affidavit, disputing allegations that he pocketed millions of his PDAF from 2007 to 2010.

Estrada said he “did not amass, accumulate or acquire ill-gotten wealth” and that he has no participation in or knowledge of the transfer of any amounts forming part of his PDAF to anyone other than the legally intended beneficiaries.

“I believe that these are nothing more than a high-level political ploy to undermine the opposition of which I am part in light of the coming 2016 national elections,” he said in his 40-page affidavit. – With Jess Diaz, Christina Mendez