No pork? No problem — Solons


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Latest News Philippines: No pork? No problem — Solons – Journal.com.ph:

LAWMAKERS may cooperate with President Benigno Aquino’s directive to suspend the release of the pork barrel while the investigation into the P10-billion scam is ongoing.

Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr. said that so far no member of the House of Representatives has expressed opposition to the decision of President Aquino.

Belmonte said that even the members of the Minority bloc are not objecting.

“I don’t think anybody, including the opposition, will oppose it in the House.  In fact, even in the Senate, I don’t think the minority will oppose it,” Belmonte said in a text message.

However, Belmonte said, the leadership of the House is still undecided as to the filing of a counterpart resolution that seeks to put on hold the release of Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF).

Every year, each member of the Lower Chamber receives P70 million pork barrel while a Senator gets P200 million.

The controversy over the pork fund came out when certain non-government organizations linked to businesswoman Janet Lim Napoles was able to get a total of P10 billion from the pork barrel of  many lawmakers from 2002 to 2010.

Earlier, Senate President Franklin Drilon  announced the filing of a resolution next week “expressing the sense of the Senate to cease from availing, accessing and utilizing their pork barrel funds until and unless stricter guidelines on the release of such funds are adopted.”  

The Senate resolution came after President Aquino announced in a television interview that pork barrel funds release will temporarily be put on hold until the probe into the pork controversy is finished.

Belmonte said lawmakers are open to revising the use and proper monitoring of the disbursement of pork barrel.

Meanwhile, Liberal Party Secretary General and Western Samar Rep. Mel Senen Sarmiento appealed to the President to make “exemptions” in the suspension of the release of pork barrel funds.

While he agreed to the President’s call for pork release suspension, Sarmiento said that the funds for soft projects, such as hospitalization, medical assistance and scholarships, should at least be provided to the congressmen.

“I agree (with the President’s directive to) tighten PDAF but Scholars in SUCs (state universities and colleges) and patients in government hospitals should be given primordial concern,” he added.

Of the P70-million pork barrel of congressmen, P30 million should be allotted for soft projects while the remaining P40 million will be for hard programs or infrastructure projects.

Lacson as pork scam prober

Senate Majority Leader Alan Cayetano wants to “appoint” former Sen.Panfilo Lacson as Special Independent Investigator of the reported Php10-billion Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) scandal.

Sen.Teofisto Guingona III, chairman of the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee, had already scheduled a public hearing on the PDAF scam on August 29 with Commission on Audit (CoA) chairperson Grace Pulido-Tan as one of the resource persons.

Cayetano said that the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee “needs an independent and credible special investigator who can assist it to ferret out the truth, pursue leads, and find evidence so that the guilty can be charged and the innocent can clear their names, while maintaining its credibility and impartiality.”

“Senator Panfilo ‘Ping’ Lacson is the best person to conduct the investigation because of his impeccable record against corruption and his unwavering stand against the pork barrel,” Cayetano said.

He also joined three other senators in seeking the abolition of PDAF. He will file two resolutions, one directing the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee to appoint Lacson as a Special Independent Investigator of the PDAF scam and another concurrent resolution abolishing the PDAF.

“These two measures are drastic but necessary ways to ensure that the benefits of our country’s economic growth and the people’s money are not hijacked by a few elites but would go directly to those people who have been left behind,” he said.

He noted that reports from investigative agencies and the CoA showed that the system of allocating funds to various agencies through the PDAF of lawmakers in order to deliver services to their constituents “is already flawed beyond repair.”

Cayetano said that he had already requested CoA to conduct an audit on the use of his PDAF allocation from 2010 to present. “With the recent controversies involving the misuse of the PDAF, I have taken it upon myself to request this Special Audit out of respect for the right of the Filipino people to know how their money is being spent,” Cayetano said in his letter to CoA Chairperson Maria Gracia Pulido-Tan.

He also urged his colleagues in the Senate and the House of Representatives to do the same.         “The best way to resolve the issue is for everyone to come clean. No excuses. No exemptions. I am urging all lawmakers to open their financial records to the public in the spirit of transparency, accountability, and reform,” he said.

Binay won’t touch PDAF

Senator Nancy Binay will not touch her pork barrel until safeguards are in place to shield it from misuse as she fully supports the Aquino administration’s decision to suspend the release of the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) amid the reported Php10-billion PDAF scam allegedly involving some lawmakers.

“I fully support (President Benigno Aquino) PNoy’s decision to suspend PDAF as long as it’s not selective at dapat lahat—pati na yung mga kaalyado ng administrasyon. Malaking bagay rin na maipasa na kaagad ang FoI bill to help ensure transparency in government,” Binay said.

She also welcomed the move of the Senate’s majority bloc not to accept PDAF for now. But she noted that the call came “too little, too late” since the President has already suspended any release of funds until the investigation into the reported misuse is done.

“Nonetheless, we agree with the basis of suspension and we in the Minority bloc welcome the President’s announcement,” Binay said. With the suspension of the PDAF, Malacanang should ensure the continuous delivery of basic services to the public such as medical and hospitalization assistance, and infrastructure development, she said.

She noted that one of the reasons why people still ask legislators for assistance for medicines, hospitalization and other local concerns is key agencies of government fail to provide the public basic services.

“Maganda naman po ang PDAF kasi natutulungan namin yung hindi naaabot ng tulong ng gobyerno, pero sana ayusin ang sistema para hindi ito maabuso,” Binay said as she chided the Commission on Audit (CoA) on the “numerous errors” in its audit reports on the lawmakers’ PDAF use from 2007 to 2009.

“Bakit napakaraming mali ng CoA sa kanilang findings. Ano ba ang sistema nila ng pag-audit sa local at national level? Errors and lapses in audited reports are simply unacceptable. Bakit inaabot ng ilang taon ang findings nila sa mga anomalous transaction na ito? And what where the actions made to these CoA reports about their findings submitted to the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) and Malacanang since 10 years ago?” Binay asked.

She also urged CoA to investigate also other “hidden allocations” given to lawmakers outside PDAF. She said that had the previous Congress passed the Freedom of Information (FOI) bill, controversy in the PDAF spending would have been avoided. “We would also be able to dig up information prior to and after 2009,” she said.    

Probe me – Revilla

Senator Ramon Revilla Jr. is eager to undergo an “impartial investigation” into the use of his pork barrel fund having already hired a hand writing expert to verify his signatures in the confirmation letters that allow the use of his Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF).

Revilla’s counsel, Joel Bodegon, said that the senator welcomes the probe into the PDAF controversy saying it is a good venue not only to clear his name but also to review and strengthen the system to safeguard it from misuse and abuse. Revilla is one of the five senators who allegedly funded the operation of “ghost” foundations established by businesswoman Janet Lim-Napoles, who is now a fugitive.

“Senator Revilla welcomes an impartial investigation on this matter. At the same time, the Office of Senator Revilla is currently doing in-depth study and serious review of the process and evaluating options to strengthen the safeguards or security measures to ensure that his PDAF allocation is not used without his office’s consent or knowledge,” Bodegon said.

In a statement, Bodegon claimed that records kept at Revilla’s office, “do not show” that he has endorsed any non-governmental organization (NGO) or requested implementing agencies to transfer his PDAF to any NGO.

This was why Revilla has asked the Commission on Audit (CoA) to give them copy of the documents it used in arriving at its finding that the senator has requested some implementing agencies to use his PDAF, Bodegon said. 

Bodegon said that they have engaged the services of a hand writing expert to verify Revilla’s signatures in the confirmation letters amid the admission of the whistleblowers, led by Benhur Luy, that they themselves falsified documents covering the availments of the legislators’ pork barrel.

On the excess PDAF allocated to Revilla, Bodegon said a thorough examination of the records of the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) should be conducted as there had been a finding of miscomputation on PDAF allocation by the CoA itself.

“In fact, CoA has admitted that there had been miscomputation on PDAF allocation, even double entries, including that of Senator Revilla,” Bodegon said. This is especially relevant in the light of the admission by Budget Secretary Florencio Abad that the supposed Php3 billion PDAF allocation to former Compostela Valley Rep. Manuel “Way Kurat” Zamora was a “clerical error,” he added.

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