MANILA (Mabuhay) — Just a day after her colleagues approved the proposed P2.6 trillion 2015 national budget on 3rd and final reading, Senator Miriam Defensor Santiago maintained that next year’s appropriations is not pork-free and is an election budget meant to influence the outcome of the presidential elections.
“It is meant to give more money to the President’s allies and departments of government which are viewed as crucial to the end result of the elections. One example is the [Department of the Interior and Local Government]. There is no more grassroot agency closer than the DILG,” she said.
She questioned the huge budget of the agency headed by presumptive Liberal Party standard-bearer, Mar Roxas. The House version of the budget allots P141.1 billion to the DILG in 2015.
Santiago questioned the DILG’s projects to put up water systems, a function that should be within the scope of the National Irrigation Administration.
“The DILG is one of the most glaring examples of lopsided budgeting,” she said.
She earlier claimed there is as much as P37 billion in pork barrel funds in the budget.
Santiago expressed satisfaction at the deletion of the phrase “at any time” in the provision that allows the withdrawal of funds from projects that had been finished or were discontinued. It was replaced by the words “final discontinuance” or “final approval.”
“Yes, that’s a technicality in which Sen. Chiz Escudero and I agree. My objection is, if you define savings as an act of discontinuance, you can stop anytime and resume next year. With this amendment, that will no longer be plausible,” she said.
She said there is still no assurance that the budget is really free of any form of pork barrel.
“It is not for me to give that assurance. I’m not even a member of the budget committee.”
The senator said only the president and the secretary of budget and management can give that assurance.
She added that anyone who wants to juggle funds will find a way even if juggling is prohibited.
Santiago urged the bicameral conference committee to fine-tune the definition of savings.
“You see, the problem with a very categorical statement that excludes all others is it will become vulnerable to bicameral negotiation. We don’t want that to happen. You can never say this is fool-proof especially if panel for the House of Representatives makes a determined stand to disagree or halt negotiations,” she said.
Santiago added: “It should only be after the project has been completed rather than awarded that savings may be identified since change orders or project modifications can take place during project execution.”
She also slammed the claims by Budget Secretary Butch Abad that there is no pork barrel fund in this budget.
“Pork barrel comes from national funds, lump sums, and spent at the discretion of legislator. If 3 elements are there, it’s pork barrel.”
Santiago wants lawmakers to be completely devoid of any role after budget approval especially in the procurement of services in projects.
In a separate statement, Santiago said, “in other words there may be no separate item called priority development assistance fund (PDAF) but the funds have already been built into the proposed 2015 budget. These funds, regardless of the name, may be considered pork barrel because they are national funds used for local projects selected by legislators, and they are granted in lump sums.”(MNS)