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Fight against 'pork' pressed

  • Written by Ryan Ponce Pacpaco
  • Published in Top Stories
  • Read: 417

THE House Independent Bloc yesterday vowed to grill the finance officials of the Aquino administration on the purported P424 billion in lump-sum or discretionary funds that were allocated to 11 of the 21 major line agencies under the P2.606-trillion 2015 General Appropriations Act (GAA) as the House committee on appropriations this morning) begins tackling next year’s national budget.
   
House Independent Bloc leader and Leyte Rep. Ferdinand Martin Romualdez, Buhay Hayaang Yumabong (Buhay) party-list Rep. Lito Atienza and Abakada party-list Rep. Jonathan de la Cruz also reiterated their call for the House of Representatives to investigate the supposed huge discretionary funds that former Sen. Panfilo “Ping” Lacson exposed.
   
“We will question the policies and details of the budget especially the discretionary funds that Sen. Lacson exposed. It is our job, although there are only a few of us here to help out in this process,” Romualdez, a lawyer and president of the Philippine Constitution Association (Philconsa), stressed as the House Committee on Appropriations led by Davao City Rep. Isidro Ungab will begin deliberating the P3.002-trillion General Appropriations Bill (GAB) for 2016.
   
At the same time, Romualdez said their group would focus on examining the hundreds of billions of special purpose funds or lump sum appropriations that could be included in next year’s national budget that are left unscrutinized and unchecked over the years.
   
“It’s our role to scrutinize the national budget for next year to guarantee that no funds are misused. We will dissect and analyze the contents of the national expenditures,” Romualdez pointed out, adding that their group would thoroughly examine how public funds for Conditional Cash Transfer (CCT) will be used in light of the reported irregularities in its utilization.
   
At 9:30 in the morning today, the Development Budget Coordinating Committee (DBCC) composed of the Department of Budget and Management (DBM), National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA), Department of Finance (DoF) and Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) will conduct the briefing for next year’s budget.
   
Ungab assured the immediate passage of the national budget to ensure that there will be no delays in the continuation of government’s priority programs.
   
“The DBCC will be the first to present on Monday. We expect our economic and financial managers to brief and update us with the country’s economic development performance and perspectives as well as our future directions. The budget highlights, overview of budget per department and per sector as well as the fund sources as to how the budget will be financed will be discussed,” Ungab said in a separate interview.
   
Atienza pointed out that pork barrel funds should no longer exist in the national budget after a Supreme Court ruling declaring the graft-ridden Priority Development Assistance Funds (PDAF), a lump-sum budgetary item and a pork barrel, unconstitutional.
   
“The people were made to believe that this year’s national budget did not contain pork barrel funds. We thought that members of Congress can only identify projects that need funding before the budget is approved. We should look into this to know the truth. How about in next year’s budget? Will there be pork barrel again?” Atienza asked.
   
For his part, de la Cruz said: “Transparency should always be the main consideration especially with the involvement of huge amounts of public funds.”
   
Romualdez also said Congress should not ignore Lacson’s statement in the name of transparency.
   
“We call on the House leadership to look into the claim of Sen. Lacson on the huge discretionary funds for sake of regularity and transparency,” Romualdez stressed.
   
But Speaker Feliciano “Sonny” Belmonte Jr. said the national budget this year complies with the Constitution and the statement of Lacson is baseless and unfounded.
   
“Everything is in order and complies with the SC decision regarding national budget,” said Belmonte, virtually rejecting an inquiry into the matter.
   
Earlier, Sen. Francis “Chiz” Escudero, then chairman of the Senate committee on finance, insisted that the 2015 national budget had no pork barrel funds, adding that lump-sum appropriations were limited to calamity funds and for maintenance and other operating expenses (MOOE) of government agencies.
   
Lacson said the P424 billion lump-sum appropriations could be higher because his team had yet to finish its review of the budget while Sen. Serge Osmeña III confirmed his claim, saying the pork barrel of lawmakers returned.
   
It will be recalled that pork projects are known to be sources of hefty kickbacks of lawmakers.
   
The 2016 national budget is 15.2 percent higher than this year’s P2.606-trillion budget and about 19.5 percent of the country’s gross domestic product (GDP).
   
Budget Secretary Florencio Abad said the spending priorities are in the following areas of the administration’s 2011-2016 development program, namely: (1) Good Governance and Anti-Corruption; (2) Ensuring Inclusive Growth; (3) Sustaining the Growth Momentum;(4) Managing Disaster Risks; and (5) Forging Just and Lasting Peace.

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