MANILA, Philippines - Special funds at the disposal of President Aquino are different from the congressional pork barrel, Malacanang insisted Monday.
Presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda moved to distinguish between the President’s Social Fund (PSF) and the pork barrel fund of lawmakers, implying that only politicians use their allocations for purposes of re-election.
“Let me be clear, pork barrel is in the context of using it as a means of re-election,” Lacierda said, referring to senators and congressmen who are entitled to yearly lump sum allocations called Priority Development Assistance Funds (PDAF), the official name of the congressional pork barrel.
He insisted on the distinction as he clarified the difference between PDAF and the PSF that has been widely known as Aquino’s pork barrel funds, over whose disbursement he has sole discretion.
“The President has no pork barrel because he is not up for re-election,” he stressed. Lacierda said under the Constitution, the President is only good for one term and, therefore, any allusion to the PSF as pork barrel is incorrect, inaccurate, and is grossly, factually wrong. Apart from this, he disclosed that such PSF funds undergo scrutiny from the Commission on Audit (COA), noting that there have been no reports of misuse of the funds by the Chief Executive for the last three years.
“The question is – have there been reports of misuse? Just like in the utilization of PDAF? There has been none, and we have not received any audit report to that effect. COA has released its report regarding the PSF,” he explained. “It’s already in the COA website.”
PSF not from taxpayers
Unlike the pork barrel funds of legislators, the PSF is not sourced from taxes collected from Filipino taxpayers and does not have a fixed amount, deputy presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte said.
As per policy, the PSF “is supported and replenished by a percentage of the profits” from the government’s main revenue generating agencies – the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp. and the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office.
She said that such allocation is not funded by the General Appropriations Act (GAA), which means it will not undergo scrutiny by both houses of Congress, which has the so-called power of the purse.
“The amount varies. It’s essentially a trust fund. We don’t propose an amount for PSF every year,” Valte asserted.
“So, if in case this fund has not been totally utilized, it is rolled over to the next year, that’s why it’s continuing,” Valte stressed. “The President’s expenditures on such have been very clear and it can be seen in the COA website.”
“The COA does the audit every year,” she said. “At the end of the calendar year, that is all summarized, the observations are all summarized in the Annual Audit Report (AAR) that COA posts and uploads as soon as they finish it. So we invite everybody to look at these COA reports to familiarize yourselves with their contents, so that everybody can see where the funds went from the taxes that people have paid.”
To say that PSF is a “discretionary fund” of Aquino is quite unfair, Valte maintained, noting that the itemization of needed funding has been laid out in the Special Purpose Funds, or the umbrella categorization where calamity funds and the like are included.
A case in point was Typhoon Pablo that pounded Mindanao in late 2012, where funds needed for the rehabilitation of several provinces in the region reached about P11 billion that were drawn from the PSF.
“By the very nature of some of these funds, that’s unprogrammed, unforeseen,” she said. “And these funds are audited, are subject to audit of the COA.”
LP supports pork abolition
The Liberal Party (LP) reaffirmed its support for President Aquino’s stand to abolish the PDAF while other political parties belonging to the majority bloc in the House of Representatives are expected to follow suit in the coming days.
Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr. presided over a caucus of LP lawmakers in the party’s headquarters in Quezon City where he also swore in four new party members from the House.
“We decided to take a united stand supporting the President’s position to scrap pork barrel funds,” Belmonte said.
Some 97 LP lawmakers attended the meeting, Western Samar Rep. Mel Senen Sarmiento, secretary-general of the party, said.
Quezon City Rep. Winston Castelo said Aquino’s move to abolish pork was “timely to rid the system of corruption and reform it to ensure that the people’s money would go to the people’s needs.”
The 24-member Senate will wait for the decision of the House of Representatives on whether or not it will scrap the P25-billion PDAF of lawmakers in the P2.268-trillion budget for 2014, Senate President Franklin Drilon said.
He said the Senate is supportive of their counterparts’ decision to support the President’s call to abolish the PDAF.
“We support that if that is the case. We have 15 senators who already said they are ready to abolish PDAF,” Drilon said.
He added that the PDAF has been allocated in the annual national budget.
“What comes to us is the GAA bill as passed by the House, then the PDAF budget for 2014 would already be deleted,” the Senate President said.
Asked how the process would be, Drilon said the Senate would still wait for the House proposal.
“That can happen, that the P25 billion will be deducted from (the 2014 budget),” Drilon said, adding the total budget will then be reduced.
Charges can be filed
University of the East College of Law dean Amado Valdez said with the testimonies of witnesses and the COA report already available, it would only take a week for the filing of plunder charges against Napoles and the senators and congressmen linked to the P10-billion pork barrel scam.
Valdez said in yesterday’s Kapihan sa Manila Hotel that he believed that it would only take the Department of Justice (DOJ) seven days to file the appropriate charges against those involved in the pork barrel fund scam before the Office of the Ombudsman.
He said that even if Napoles is a private citizen she could still face plunder charges if her actions would be tied to a public official. But this would only hold if it would be proven that they misused public funds.
The prosecutors could use the testimonies of the 27 witnesses and the COA report to connect them to the scam.
“The prosecutor has to be creative because he has to consider several procedural laws. If you are with the prosecution, if you want to do it fast then you should collect all the information and audit, for example, a senator and assess if there is enough evidence against a senator. You should also consider how much money was put into a non-existing project of a senator and how much went to a non-government organization,” he said. – With Paolo Romero, Evelyn Macairan, Christina Mendez