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President Aquino: Time to abolish PDAF

August 23, 2013 12:02pm

(Updated 2:14 p.m.) Departing from his earlier statements, President Benigno Aquino III on Friday said it is time to abolish the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF).

At a press briefing, Aquino also vowed that those who benefited from the alleged misuse of these discretionary funds will be held accountable.

"Nakita natin sa mga ulat na lumabas nitong mga nakaraang linggo: kailangan pa ng mas malaking pagbabago upang labanan ang mga talagang pursigidong abusuhin ang sistema. Panahon na po upang i-abolish ang PDAF," Aquino said.

Aquino made the announcement three days before a scheduled mass gathering at the Luneta Park to condemn the corruption involving the pork barrel fund, the widely popular tag for PDAF. But Aquino said his administration doesn't consider the gathering a threat and even thanked those who would attend it.

"Bakit tayo kakabahan? Dumami kakampi natin sa pagsasaayos sa sistema. Maraming salamat sa kanila," he said.

Public outrage has been building since reports in July that said lawmakers allegedly received kickbacks from a P10-billion pork barrel scam that took place over a period of 10 years.

Friday's announcement came days after Aquino announced that he has suspended the release of pork barrel funds until the investigation regarding the scam is completed.

"New mechanism"

In place of the PDAF system, which started in 1990 during the administration of Aquino's mother, the late President Cory Aquino, a new mechanism will be created to address the needs of the people, Aquino said, adding that starting 2014, the lawmakers will have to course their projects through the budget process.

"Ngayon, bubuo tayo ng bagong mekanismo upang matugunan ang pangangailangan ng inyong mga mamamayan at sektor–sa paraang tapat, gamit ang tama at makatuwirang proseso, at nang may sapat na mga kalasag laban sa pang-aabuso at katiwalian," said Aquino, who was flanked by Senate President Franklin Drilon and House Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr. when he made the announcement.
 
"Kung maaprubahan, itatala ang mga ito bilang mga line item, alinsunod sa mga programa ng Pambansang Pamahalaan. Mapapaloob ito sa batas bilang Pambansang Budget– hihimayin ang bawat linya, bawat piso, bawat proyekto, gaya ng lahat ng iba pang mga programa ng inyong pamahalaan," he said.

Aquino said he has already asked Budget Secretary Butch Abad to consult with Drilon and Belmonte to create the mechanism and submit it to him. "Ilalatag natin ito upang ang mga alokasyon sa bawat distrito ay mapabilang na sa ating Pambansang Budget simula sa panukalang budget ng 2014," he said.

Belmonte, for his part, encouraged lawmakers to begin listing the projects they want in time for the passage of the 2014 budget.

"Kumonsulta na kayo sa mga leader o mga barangay captain o mga mayor at gumawa na kayo ng listahan at ng pagkikita ng hearing ay maipapasok na ninyo yung mga listahan at nakikita na ninyo," he said.

Belmonte, however, admitted that this may lengthen the budget deliberations but that they are willing to add more session days just to pass the budget before the end of the year.

Limited menu

Under the new rules, Aquino said the projects that will be approved must come from a "limited" menu.

"Bawal na ang mga consumable na soft project tulad ng fertilizers, punla, gamot, medical kits, pustiso, paliga, training materials, at iba pang mga bagay na hindi masusuri kung totoo ngang may kinahihinatnan, o kung nagmumulto at pinagkakakitaan lamang," he said.

He specifically said the following will no longer be allowed:

  • dredging, desilting, regravelling, or asphalt overlay projects
  • coursing funds through NGOs and selected Government-Owned and -Controlled Corporations (GOCCs)
  • sponsoring projects for districts not governed my the lawmaker

He also said they will require the posting of bid notices and awards on the Philippine Government Electronic Procurement System (PhilGEPS) and the status of the implementation of projects on the website of the Department of Budget and Management, the National Data Portal of the government, and other concerned agencies.

A Commission on Audit (COA) report, bared Friday last week, said at least 74 lawmakers, including Aquino allies, received excessive amounts of pork barrel funds amounting to millions from 2007 to 2009.
 
The report also said that some P6.156-billion pork barrel funds from close to 200 lawmakers went to 82 mostly dubious non-government organizations (NGOs) in that three-year period, including 10 linked to businesswoman Janet Lim-Napoles.

"Akala po ng iba, pera nila ang PDAF, na puwedeng gastusin kung paano nila gusto. Pero mali po ito: Pera ng bayan ang pinag-uusapan dito, at sa bayan dapat — at hindi sa ilang gahaman lamang – ang pakinabang nito," said Aquino on Friday.

Belmonte described the COA report as an eye-opener for him.

"Hindi ko akalain na ganoon karami 'yung pera na pumapasok for instance dun sa mga government agencies o implementing agencies that end up being used by NGOs di ko nalaman yun until I read it here," he said.

Congress

At least 16 of the 24 incumbent senators, who receive P200 million in pork barrel fund every year, have already said they are in favor of abolishing the PDAF.

On the other hand, Aquino said the House leadership has agreed that there was something wrong with the system. "Gagana lamang po ang sistemang ito kung makikiisa at makikilahok kayo," he said.

Belmonte admitted that some lawmakers may oppose the move but that he was confident he will be able to explain to them.

"Siyempre may mga magagalit dahil sa binabago... something that they have been used to [but] I'm very hopeful that I will be able to explain," he said.

Aquino, meanwhile, urged the public to scrutinize the new mechanism once it is in place.

"Nananawagan akong makiambag at magsikap ang bawat isa, gaya ng pakikiambag at pagsisikap ng inyong gobyerno. Sama-sama nating pagtibayin ang pananagutan at katapatan, upang masigurong ang pera ng bayan ay ginugugol sa paraang makatarungan at tunay ninyong napapakinabangan," he said.

Pork scam

Aquino said he has already asked the Department of Justice and the 10 agencies under the Inter-Agency Anti-Graft Coordinating Council (IAAGCC) through an administrative order to help hasten the investigation on the scam.

"Malinaw ang aking direktiba sa lahat ng ahensya at kawani ng gobyerno: Ibigay ang inyong buong tulong at kooperasyon upang mahanap ang katotohanan, at nang mapanagot ang dapat managot," he said.

In an interview after his speech, Aquino said the probe will have no "limitations" and that it will go beyond Napoles.

"Buong-buo po ang kumpiyansa ko sa integridad nina Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales, Kalihim Leila M. de Lima, at Chairperson Grace Pulido-Tan; alam kong wala silang kikilingan. Kinakatawan nila ang panunumbalik ng tiwala ng publiko sa mga institusyong kanilang pinamumunuan," he said.

But the President said that although he would like to see a conviction under his term, he needs to be realistic and accept that the probe may take years.

"I’m told, 'yung to finish the case... baka three to five years, for each and everyone. You’re going to go through of all the appeals, processes, et cetera," he said. — KBK, GMA News


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