MANILA, Philippines - This year's Calamity Fund has been increased to P13 billion, from P7.5 billion in 2013 and in previous years.
Some P5.5 billion was added to the fund during the Senate-House of Representatives conference on the final version of the P2.265-trillion 2014 national budget.
The Calamity Fund and the Contingent Fund are at the disposal of the President. They are lump sums in the national budget. The appropriation for contingencies remains at P1 billion.
Of the additional P5.5 billion, P1 billion apparently represents the combined pork barrel funds of five senators.
Senators Miriam Defensor-Santiago, Ralph Recto, Joseph Victor Ejercito, and the two Cayetanos Pia and Alan Peter realigned their outlawed P200-million Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) allocations to the calamity fund.
Fifteen senators led by Senate President Franklin Drilon gave up their funds, while Senators Ramon Revilla Jr. and Lito Lapid gave most of their funds to the Department of Public Works and Highways.
Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV distributed his PDAF among several agencies and Sen. Jinggoy Estrada allocated his P200-million pork barrel fund as financial assistance to three local government units, including Manila, where his father, former President Joseph Estrada, is mayor.
Estrada allotted P100 million for Manila, P50 million for Caloocan City and P50 million for Lal-lo town in Cagayan.
Most House members spread their funds among five agencies.
In a statement, Recto said, “It is of public record that I requested that the P200 million in PDAF earmarked for my office be realigned to the Calamity Fund so it can be used to help Yolanda victims.”
“When faced with the choice of deducting the amount from the budget or giving it to victims of the most powerful storm in history, I had no qualms in choosing the homeless victims of that calamity,” he said.
He recalled that Congress even had to augment last year’s Calamity Fund using P14 billion in unspent PDAF since there was not enough money for relief operations and the reconstruction of typhoon-ravaged communities.
“It is up to the President and his men to decide on where, how and when to use the Calamity Fund, including my P200-million augmentation. I will absolutely have no say on how it will be used,” he said.
After augmenting last year’s Calamity Fund with the unspent P14-billion PDAF, Congress extended the life of balances of all 2013 appropriations by one year so that President Aquino could use the money for victims of calamities.
His mandate is to help victims and communities devastated not only by killer Typhoon Yolanda, but by previous destructive storms like Sendong, Pablo and Santi, by the Cebu-Bohol earthquake, and by the siege and fighting in Zamboanga City that razed several coastal villages.
Aquino also has at his disposal a P100-billion rehabilitation and reconstruction fund in the 2014 national budget, of which P20 billion is already funded.
Funding for the bigger portion of P80 billion will depend on loans, foreign assistance and extra revenues.