MANILA, Philippines - The Supreme Court may have struck down the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) as unconstitutional, but senators and congressmen are keeping their P25-billion pork barrel in the 2015 national budget.
Leaders of the Senate and the House of Representatives have asked their respective members to submit a list of infrastructure projects and medical, educational and financial assistance beneficiaries that would be included in next year’s budget.
Senators would continue to enjoy an annual fund of P200 million each, while House members would keep their P70-million yearly fund. Thus, the 24 senators would have a combined pork barrel of P4.8 billion, while the 289-member House would have P20.23 billion, for a total of P25.03 billion.
Lawmakers have also been advised to confine their fund allocations to six implementing agencies, to which they had realigned at least P21 billion in PDAF in this year’s budget.
PDAF used to be the official name of the congressional pork barrel. It was a P25-billion lump sum in the annual budget.
Senators and congressmen realigned their PDAF when they approved the 2014 outlay in December, a month after the Supreme Court (SC) struck down the PDAF as unconstitutional and prohibited lawmakers from having any role in implementing the national budget after they have approved it, except to exercise their oversight power.
However, the SC ruling does not bar them from including their projects in the budget while they are considering them. This is obviously what they are now trying to do by coming up with a project listing that would be sent to the implementing agencies to be included in their budget proposals.
Several congressmen interviewed by The STAR said they have no problem with listing their infrastructure projects and beneficiaries of educational assistance or scholarships.
In the case of financial aid like burial assistance, they said the funds could be entrusted to the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD).
They said their problem is with medical aid, since they could not anticipate who among their constituents would get sick.
Besides, they added that Health Secretary Enrique Ona had told them that he did not want to have anything to do anymore with pork barrel funds.
In a recent meeting, House members discussed ways of using their medical assistance funds.
One suggestion was to adopt the practice started by Rep. Alfredo Benitez of Negros Occidental’s third district of using the funds to enroll indigent constituents in PhilHealth.
Benitez is said to have already extended PhilHealth insurance coverage to 70,000 indigent families in his district.
Congressmen reasoned out that funding PhilHealth insurance is consistent with the Aquino administration’s goal of attaining universal health insurance coverage for indigents as well as with the SC decision on PDAF.
Other House members called for sanctioning Ona if he continues to refuse accepting funds intended for government hospitals in Metro Manila and the provinces, where lawmakers could send their sick constituents.
The problem with this arrangement is that referring constituents could be interpreted as post-budget enactment intervention, which the SC ruling on PDAF prohibits, and that Ona and the hospitals might just ignore referrals.
This year, the biggest recipient of PDAF realignment was the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH), which received an additional P7.26 billion for the infrastructure projects of senators and congressmen.
Such projects are listed in detail in the DPWH budget. Among the senators who realigned their funds to the agency were Ramon Revilla Jr. and Lito Lapid.
Sen. Jinggoy Estrada gave P100 million of his P200-million PDAF to Manila as financial assistance and split the remaining P100 million between Caloocan City and Lal-lo town in Cagayan. His father, former President Joseph Estrada, is mayor of Manila.
Sen. Nancy Binay realigned P300 million to the National Housing Authority, which is under the supervision of her father, Vice President Jejomar Binay.
The second biggest realignment of P4.12 billion went to the Commission on Higher Education (CHED). The money is for “scholarship assistance to students.”
The DSWD received P4.1 billion for “burial, transportation, medical, and food assistance,” while the Department of Health (DOH) was allocated P3.25 billion for “hospitalization and medical assistance.”
The Technical Education and Skills Development Authority was given P1.03 billion for “training for employment,” while the Department of Labor and Employment received P1.02 billion for “special program for the training of students.”
Some P1 billion representing the combined PDAF allocations of five senators was realigned to augment the calamity fund.