At least three senators have expressed readiness to let go of their “pork barrel” funds amid the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP)’s call to junk these controversial allocations.
At a press briefing Tuesday, Senator Paolo Benigno “Bam” Aquino IV said there is “weight” in the call by Roman Catholic Church officials to junk the priority development assistance fund (PDAF).
“Kung wala namang pork barrel, I don’t think any of us will be lesser legislators … If tomorrow, the President or the Senate President will call for the abolition of the pork barrel, I won’t mind,” Aquino said.
The neophyte lawmaker said he plans to use his PDAF to fund programs that will create job opportunities for ordinary Filipinos.
Earlier in the day, Bam, who is President Aquino’s first cousin, said he opposes proposals from some of his fellow lawmakers to stop the release of “pork barrel” funds to non-government organizations (NGOs).
At a separate briefing, Senator Antonio Trillanes IV said he also won’t mind having these discretionary funds abolished, since it is the Executive Department which benefits from the PDAF anyway.
“Either way, okay lang. Kung mayroon, e di gagamitin natin nang maayos. Kung wala, tuloy lang tayo sa trabaho natin. Itong pork barrel, this is a policy tool of the president to get his legislative agenda done,” Trillanes said.
On Monday, incoming CBCP president and Lingayen-Dagupan Archbishop Socrates Villegas issued a pastoral statement calling on lawmakers to just focus on legislation and let go of their PDAFs.
The bishop made this call after the Philippine Daily Inquirer ran a series of reports detailing how fake groups supposedly used the “pork barrel” of some senators and House members to fund ghost projects worth P10 billion.
Each senator receives P200 million each year in PDAF. They are required to allocate half of this amount to infrastructure projects, while the other half should be used to fund “soft” projects such as medical assistance and scholarship programs.
In an earlier interview, Senator Grace Poe also said she won’t oppose moves to abolish the PDAF.
“Hindi naman ako magwawala na tanggalin ‘yan. Okay lang din sa akin kasi nasanay naman din ako sa ganito kaliit na budget for P42 million sa MTRCB [Movie and Television Review and Classification Board], wala namang mga discretionary funds, so okay lang din,” Poe said.
She, however, added that it will be “a good thing to have” these discretionary funds, as long as they are used properly.
Senator Francis Escudero, chairperson of the Senate finance committee, for his part, said that abolishing the PDAF may affect the delivery of basic services to the countryside.
“Ang pork barrel napakasama na ng imahe ng kinakalabasan. Pero kung tatanungin niyo ang mga taga-probinsya, hinahanap at gusto ng mga kababayan natin iyan doon. Bakit? Great equalizer siya ika nga,” Escudero told reporters Tuesday.
He also pledged to scrutinize the PDAF during deliberations on the proposed 2014 budget at the Senate. — RSJ, GMA News