Senators eye unused P1B 'pork' for quake victims

By Christina Mendez , The Philippine Star

Posted at Oct 19 2013 01:45 AM | Updated as of Oct 19 2013 09:45 AM

MANILA, Philippines - Senators Ralph Recto, Jinggoy Estrada and JV Ejercito are amenable to a recommendation to allocate the unused pork barrel funds of senators to help typhoon victims and those in areas devastated by last Tuesday’s powerful earthquake in the Visayas.

The Senate still has about P1 billion for 2013 left since the Supreme Court issued a temporary restraining order (TRO) on the use of the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF).

Estrada said he is amenable to use his remaining PDAF for rehabilitation efforts in Bohol and Cebu, which were most devastated by the earthquake.

Recto also shared the same sentiment, which was touched on during the all-senators’ caucus last Wednesday.

“It is perhaps time to thaw the frozen pork and use it to help victims of the Visayas earthquake, Typhoon Santi and the siege of Zamboanga,” Recto said.

Recto went on to rename the “withheld” PDAF as Priority Disaster Assistance Fund.

To effect the release, Recto proposed the Senate should issue a resolution authorizing the executive branch to utilize the unreleased portion of the senators’ share from the PDAF in 2013 for the rehabilitation of areas hit by the three calamities.

“I will leave it up to the lawyers in the chamber to perfect the legal language which would free the PDAF from judicial impoundment,” Recto said.

At the same time, Recto said the resolution would allow executive agencies and local governments to use it to provide comfort and succor to those affected by the recent calamities.

“My point is that from the senators’ funds from PDAF alone, there is a substantial amount that can be tapped for disaster relief,” he said.

Recto, however, is among the five senators and three congressmen who have yet to receive even a peso of their PDAF for 2013.

The Department of Budget and Management (DBM) website showed the P200-million allocations of Senate President Franklin Drilon and Pia Cayetano, Sergio Osmeña III, Ramon Revilla Jr., and Recto are still intact.

In the case of Sen. Aquilino Pimentel III, he has touched only P2.5 million, while Sen. Alan Peter Cayetano has availed himself of only P48.5 million.

Four have used up their entire P100-million allocation for the first six months of this year. They are Senators Miriam Defensor-Santiago, Vicente Sotto III, Lito Lapid, and Edgardo Angara, who ended his two terms last June 30.

Francis Pangilinan, another two-term senator who exited in June, used up P99.750 million, while Manuel Villar Jr. availed himself of P84.6 million.

Two other June “retirees,” Joker Arroyo and Panfilo Lacson, did not touch their annual P200-million allocations for most of their 12 years in the Senate.

Other senators and the amount of PDAF the DBM has made available to them this year are Jinggoy Estrada, P95.5 million; Juan Ponce Enrile, P75 million; Francis Escudero, P99 million; Teofisto Guingona III, P61.630 million; Gregorio Honasan, P93 million; Loren Legarda, P90.5 million; Ferdinand Marcos Jr., P51 million; and Antonio Trillanes IV, P87.920 million.

In the House of Representatives, only three members have not availed of even a peso of their annual P70-million PDAF. They are Majority Leader Neptali Gonzales II, Miro Quimbo of Marikina and Rodolfo Fariñas of Ilocos Norte.

Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr. has used up only P16 million.

No amount has been released to militant party-list groups Anakpawis, Gabriela, Kabataan, and Alliance of Concerned Teachers.

In the case of Bayan Muna, a total of P95.725 million has been released, though only P10.375 million came from the 2013 PDAF. The much larger amount of P85.350 million represented the balance of the group’s 2012 pork barrel fund.

Most House members representing legislative districts and party-list groups have exhausted their P35-million half-year PDAF allocations, including former president and Pampanga Rep. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and Ilocos Norte Rep. Imelda Romualdez Marcos.

The DBM website does not reflect other funds released to members of Congress, if any, like those coming from the so-called Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP).

Belmonte has said he feels for the 66 new members who were elected in May and who have never tasted congressional “pork.” They are the most affected, Belmonte said.

So are three new senators – Grace Poe, Nancy Binay and Paulo Benigno Aquino IV. Three other new senators – Juan Edgardo Angara, JV Ejercito and Cynthia Villar – had their PDAF allocations when they were House members.

No blackmail

The Supreme Court has stopped further releases from the P25-billion 2013 PDAF in view of cases filed questioning the constitutionality of the congressional pork barrel.

Several groups also asked the SC to declare Malacañang’s DAP unconstitutional, saying the realignment of savings by the government agencies is illegal without any law authorizing it.

Malacañang said the DAP is justified since the money saved is being used to help victims of disasters and rehabilitate areas affected.

There were observations, however, that Malacañang was making critics feel guilty by saying the government would need the savings to deal with natural calamities and stimulate the economy.

Presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda and deputy presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte insisted Malacañang was not resorting to blackmail when it said stopping the realignment of savings for mechanisms like the DAP could hurt even the funding to assist victims of disasters and rehabilitate areas affected.

“That’s not blackmail. That’s a statement of fact. It is a statement of fact that we tap savings to help the reconstruction in Typhoon Pablo. While it is correct that we have other funding sources, given the number of challenges that we’ve faced this year – among them habagat (southwest monsoon), Typhoon Santi, rehabilitation that is necessary in Zamboanga – we do have to look at existing sources of funds for the government that can be utilized for these purposes,” Valte said.

Valte did not, however, say exactky when the administration began tapping DAP funds for natural calamities. “Last year... for Zamboanga... the P3.89 (million) in Zamboanga, (that) was drawn...partly from the calamity fund and partly from the contingent fund for 2013,” she said.

Valte said other current savings would be used for Typhoon Pablo that struck last year because that kind of devastation was not expected.

“We look at the funds that we can possibly draw from, and if you remember Pablo happened at the end of the year already, so chances are, there will be little left of the contingent and calamity fund. That’s why we have to look for other funding sources,” she said. – Jess Diaz, Aurea Calica