‘Pork barrel’ still in Duterte budget
PORK BARREL funds remain in the 2017 General Appropriations Act and the Department of Public Works and Highways not only regained its “slashed P8.5 billion pork,” it also got an additional P497 million taken from the Calamity Fund, according to Senator Panfilo Lacson.
And not only that, he said even lawmakers from the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao wanted more share of the pork barrel and claiming others were getting hefty funds for their own projects and why do not they.
“During the budget plenary debates, the ARMM congressmen came to see me to plead their case. Inabot nga kami ng 10 p.m. sa office ko explaining in so many words,” Lacson said. “Buti nga daw sila, tig P1.5billion lang na projects, yung iba raw mga congressmen abot ng tig P5-billion.”
“Change is coming? Maybe, pero it's pork allocations changing hands from Liberal Party congressmen to those from Mindanao,” he added.
Lacson said at least two other senators commented in the lounge during session suspensions, “sobra naman sila... tayo ngang mga senador, tig P300-million lang.” He did not identify who these ARMM lawmakers were, but the region is composed of the provinces of Basilan, Sulu, Tawi-tawi, Maguindanao and Lanao del Sur, including the cities of Lamitan and Marawi.
But Lacson, a former national police chief, said he and two other senators – Tito Sotto and Francis Pangilinan - did not submit their list of projects. “By the way, I did not submit my P300million list of projects. Senators Tito Sotto and Kiko Pangilinan approached me on separate occasions to inform me that they too did not submit. I don't know who else among my Senate colleagues likewise did not submit their list,” he said.
Lacson said the DPWH budget is now P9.054 billion and the additional funds came from the huge cuts suffered by National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Fund or Calamity Fund under the Special Purpose Fund, which was reduced from an original budget of P37.255 billion to a mere P15.755 billion or a reduction of P21.5 billion.
“What is unfortunate is that with massive devastations brought by recent calamities starting with typhoons Pablo, Yolanda, Karen, Lawin, Nina, to name some, most of the victims might be left to fend for themselves instead of getting sufficient assistance from the government,” he said, adding, Yolanda victims for example - still needs at least P100 billion to fully recover.
“What is sad here is the thought of sacrificing the victims of calamities for political favors and alliances. The details of the DPWH budget and other agencies are not yet out. Once we get hold of the budget books, we will diligently scrutinize. I and my team will continue to be the watchdog to guard against abuses in the use of public funds. I tell you - it is tiring and frustrating and not a few times, I have paused and felt resigned, simply step aside or abandon this advocacy. It is a lonely crusade, to say the least,” Lacson said.
He said there is no saying that those who identified their projects in the 2017 national budget, both from the Senate and the House, would get commissions from contractors. “What I'm trying to say is, Filipinos are made to believe that Priority Development Assistance Fund is dead after the Supreme Court ruling in 2013. I am not stupid. Filipinos are not stupid. They are just resigned, I think. After all these years that I and my staff scrutinize the budget books year in and year out, I know pork when I see it. I believe our people, especially our taxpayers, should know the real score behind all these pretences and denials about the existence of pork,” Lacson said.
Pork barrel refers to a lump-sum discretionary fund granted to each member of Congress for spending on priority development projects in their area. But many of the funds had been diverted and misused and allegedly ended up in the pockets of politicians and their middlemen.