A FORMER Budget secretary thinks President Aquino was bluffing when he said last Aug. 23 that he would abolish the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF), popularly known as “pork barrel.”

It was an insincere attempt to resolve the issue, said UP economist Benjamin Diokno, former secretary of the Department of Budget and Management under the administration of President Joseph Estrada who’s now Manila mayor.

The President drew flak over his Aug. 23 announcement, which was interpreted as not abolishing PDAF per se but instead introducing a “modified” system of pork barrel.

PDAF has become a bribe from the president for lawmakers to be lenient in their constitutional duty to scrutinize carefully the national budget, Diokno said.

“With the huge pork being dangled, the president’s budgets in recent years have been approved with very little alterations,” Diokno said in an email to the Varsitarian.

PDAF is a regular allocation of public funds to members of Congress, allowing lawmakers to spearhead projects for their respective constituencies.

For political science professor Dennis Coronacion, the pork barrel’s new mechanism would only preserve the status quo.

“If [Aquino] will not abolish it, he should at least have a genuine reform that will not be prone to abuse and loopholes,” he said in an interview.

Prone to abuse

Under the PDAF scheme, members of the House of Representatives each receive P70 million annually, while P200 million is allotted for each senator.

Diokno said PDAF creates a demand for corruption.

“Create a fund and it will attract a lot of abuses and corruption; the bigger the fund, the bigger the appetite for corruption,” he said.

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The system is prone to abuse because of the lack of a concrete purpose, Coronacion said.

“There is no clear idea as to which items the budget is allocated to,” he said. “The legislators are given the threshold and they are given the discretion to pinpoint later on.”

A common argument by pro-pork barrel legislators is that the absence of pork will make it difficult for members of Congress, especially the House of Representatives, to respond to the needs of their constituents.

Diokno said this is not a real problem.

“For congressmen who feel they have to bring some projects back home, they can talk to individual department heads and make their intention known,” he said.

Abolition ‘unnecessary’

But former Senate president Aquilino Pimentel Jr. said the abolition of the PDAF would be unnecessary.

“If it is used properly and honestly, it will serve its purpose of giving much good to the people,” he said.

Pimentel said the existence of the pork barrel was not the problem, but the failure of the auditing process.

“There are stringent auditing procedures but auditors do not observe these strict rules, that’s why bogus non-government organizations (NGO) become recipients of these funds,” Pimentel told the Varsitarian in an interview.

Officials concerned must see to it that projects are properly implemented, he said.

“By itself, the PDAF is not bad,” said Pimentel. “It’s the misuse that becomes evil.”

Nearing conclusion?

The pork barrel started in 1987 when the legislature was reverted to the bi-cameral system. And later in 1989, the Mindanao Development Fund and Visayas Development Fund gave legislators lump sum appropriations of P480 million and P240 million, respectively, for various projects to develop the regions.

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Luzon was also given budget for development projects in 1990, which led to the creation of the Countrywide Development Fund (CDF) with an appropriation of P2.3 billion.

In 1996, the late former Makati Rep. Romeo Candazo disclosed to the media how members of Congress indulged themselves with huge sums of government money in the form of kickbacks.

During the 12th Congress that year, the CDF was renamed PDAF, which was limited to funding “hard projects” like roads, bridges, hospitals and daycare centers; and “soft projects” like support for the Department of Social Welfare and Development and procurement of seeds.

The issue has reached its boiling point following the expose of whistleblower Benhur Luy, who tagged Janet Lim-Napoles as the brains behind a scam involving P10 billion worth of lawmaker’s pork barrel funds.

According to a series of articles published by the Philippine Daily Inquirer, Napoles allegedly pocketed millions of pesos—supposedly for development projects—of legislators’ pork coursed through fake NGOs.

The national scandal prompted citizens to join the Million People March on National Heroes’ Day last Aug. 26. Around 100,000 Filipinos gathered for the rally at Luneta Park in Manila to express their anger at the misuse of pork barrel funds.

The rallyists called for the abolition of the PDAF.

After weeks of hiding, Napoles surrendered to the President himself last Aug. 28 and is now detained at Fort Sto. Domingo in Sta. Rosa, Laguna.

Meanwhile, testimony from a former official of the National Agribusiness Corp. confirmed that senators Juan Ponce Enrile, Ramon “Bong” Revilla, Jr. and Jose “Jinggoy” Estrada endorsed the release of pork barrel funds to bogus NGOs. Charges are expected to be filed against them along with other lawmakers who are implicated.

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