Makabayan finds ally in Miriam, pushes forward with PI vs pork

By RG Cruz, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Nov 26 2014 02:46 PM | Updated as of Nov 26 2014 10:46 PM

MANILA - Anti-pork barrel lawmakers claim they are on track to gather the sufficient number of signatures to enact a people's initiative to scrap the pork barrel system.

This, after Senator Miriam Defensor Santiago repeated in her own speech at the Senate all the arguments Makabayan had raised against the pork barrel system during the budget deliberations at the House.

The Senate is now tackling the proposed 2015 national budget, which Makabayan has claimed is riddled with hidden pork barrel funds and funds that can be realigned by the President as savings, much like the Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP) outlawed by the high court.

ACT Teachers Party-list Rep. Antonio Tinio said they are happy that a senator "has reaffirmed what we have been hammering about the budget...specifically our critique on redefinition of savings, lump sum funds and hidden pork in agencies we identified."

"We laud Senator Santiago for taking a strong stand and saying all of these are unconstitutional and should not be allowed by the Senate. Hinihintay namin ano mangyayari sa Senado, kung kakatigan ba ang kaniyang position at kung maaaprubahan more or less yung budget na sinubmit ng Malacañang," Tinio said.

Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos Zarate added that the speech of Santiago "emboldened us to believe ang pagtatanggal sa pork barrel system di mangyayari kung asahan Kongreso, Executive. Denial king si [Budget Secretary Butch] Abad na no pork in the budget."

Zarate said it also emboldened them to pursue people's initiative to scrap the pork barrel system.

"Gumugulong people's initiative. Officially sinubmit kahapon sa Comelec 10,000 signatures pero sa provinces we're still waiting. I think we're on track sa gusto na [people's initiative against pork barrel] na 6 to 10 million signatures."

In a statement, Bayan secretary general Renato Reyes said based on the version approved by the House of Representatives, pork barrel allocations for congressmen is up by 32% from P20.76 billion in 2014 to P27.39 billion in 2015.

"This means that each congressman will get around P94.44 million in congressional pork in 2015, which is higher than the traditional PDAF allocation of P70 million per congressman. The pork is tucked-in as line item budgets in the following departments:

DPWH Local Infrastructure Program - P18.37 billion
DSWD Comprehensive and Integrated Delivery of Social Services - P3.64 billion
CHED and SUCs Tulong Dunong Program - P2.46 billion
DOH Assistance to Indigent Patients - P1.76 billion
DOLE Government Internship Program and Tulong Panghanapbuhay sa Ating Disadvantaged Workers "TUPAD" Project - P611.7 million
TESDA Special Training for Employment Program - P543.3 million"

"Just like the PDAF, these funds are pre-allocated to each district and party-list group and their release are subject to referrals or recommendations by the congressmen. This discreet system is their way of going around the Supreme Court decision which essentially abolished PDAF as an item in the national budget," Reyes said.

"The bulk of the pork barrel goes to the Executive, estimated to be around P958 billion in special purpose funds, unprogrammed funds and lump sum appropriations whose release is upon the sole discretion of the President and his appointees," he added.

Among the presidential pork items are the following:

Budgetary Support to GOCCs - P61.3 billion
Assistance to LGUs - P33.1 billion
Risk management program - P30 billion
Support for infra projects and social programs - P20 billion
Unprogrammed funds - P123 billion
Miscellaneous Personnel Benefit Fund - P118 billion
Grassroots Participatory Budgeting - P20.9 billion
Pamana program - P7.3 B

"Worse, with the redefinition of savings as proposed by Malacañang and approved by the House, the entire budget becomes the President's pork barrel since he will now be allowed, DAP-style, to declare billions in savings in the middle of the year for realignment to his or his allies' pet projects."

PEOPLE'S INITIATIVE

The bill that will be passed around for signature "abolishes the presidential and congressional pork barrel, mandates line item budgeting, prohibits and criminalizes appropriation and use of lump sum discretionary funds, and penalizes violators with six years and one day to ten years imprisonment and disqualification from holding public office."

It defines pork barrel as "a lump sum public fund with sole discretion given to the President, legislator or group of legislators, or any public officer. The exercise of discretion by public officers relates to the allocation, release or use of these public funds, the identification or selection of projects, implementors or beneficiaries, or any or a combination of or all of these."

The following are the salient provisions:

Mandatory acts

- All proposed budgets shall contain only itemized or line-item appropriations, except in the case of disaster reponse, the contingency fund of up to 5% and intelligence/confidential funds of the National Security Council, the Department of National Defense and the Department of Interior and Local Governments.

- Special Funds like Malampaya Funds and other off-budget accounts shall be included in the National Expenditure Program (NEP) to be approved by Congress. The President Social Fund is abolished.

- All unspent, unobligated and unreleased funds by the end of the fiscal year shall revert to or remain in the General Fund and shall be subject to Congress appropriation.

Prohibited acts

The penalty of imprisonment of six years and one day to ten years and perpetual disqualification from public office shall be imposed those who commit any of the following acts:

- Any national official (the President, his subordinate or member of Congress) who authorizes the spending of public money that is not covered by or is in violation of any appropriation law.

- Any national official who includes a lump sum amount in any budget proposal submitted to Congress, or any member of Congress who approves the inclusion of lump sum discretionary fund in the general or supplemental appropriations acts.

- Any member of Congress or his agent who directly or indirectly intervenes or participates in the implementation of any appropriation law through any post-enactment act or practice.

- Any national official who declares and utilize savings in circumvention or violation of Article VI Section 25 (5) of the Constitution and this Act.

- Any national official who withdraws unobligated funds and declares and utilize as savings said unobligated funds before the end of the fiscal year.

- Any national official who impounds any appropriation or portion thereof unless there is an official declaration by the President of an unmanageable National Government budget deficit.

- Any person, including a private individual, who persuades or cooperates with any national official in violating this Act.

The proposed bill also bars Congress from tampering with it. "This Act may only be repealed, modified or amended by a law that has been approved by the people under the system of initiative and referendum enshrined in the Constitution."

This is not the first time anyone attempted a people's initiative. There were people's initiative movements during the time of former Presidents Fidel Ramos and Gloria Arroyo to amend the Constitution. It was PIRMA (People's Initiative for Reform, Modernization and Action) under Ramos and Sigaw ng Bayan under Arroyo.

PIRMA was torpedoed by the Supreme Court which ruled that it lacked an enabling law. Sigaw ng Bayan was also torpedoed by the court on the ground that it failed to comply with the requirements for a valid people's initiative.

The court, however, overturned the PIRMA ruling in its ruling on the Sigaw ng Bayan case -- by saying there was already an enabling law for a people's initiative.

Previously, Comelec chairman Sixto Brillantes said that there is a requirement for 10% of the voters nationwide to sign the initiative to have a valid initiative for it to be sent to a referendum.

This will be reckoned from the list of voters in the last election -- the 2013 barangay elections.