The national budget for 2017 has already been approved by Congress and signed by President Duterte but suspicions remain that it still contains “pork barrel” funds which the Supreme Court ruled unconstitutional in 2013.
These funds went by the name “Priority Development Assistance Fund” (PDAF) in the old budgets. Before they were stopped by the Supreme Court decision, they amounted to P70 million per congressman and P200 million per senator.
These were used to finance either so-called “hard projects” such as barangay roads and schoolhouses or “soft projects” such as hospital assistance, scholarships, and training programs.
The Supreme Court, however, declared the PDAF unconstitutional as it allowed legislators to intervene or participate in carrying out the projects after they had been approved by Congress in the General Appropriation Act. In the case of public works projects, the participation included choosing the contractors – who may have funds set aside for precisely the purpose of winning contracts.
Sen. Panfilo Lacson has now charged that while there are no PDAF projects labeled as such in the new budget, legislators continue to have a hand in their release and in their actual expenditure. He said two senators – Vicente Sotto III and Francis Pangilinan – told him they were asked by the Department of Budget and Management to submit a list of projects for inclusion in the budget, but they did not submit any list, they said.
Lacson said the hidden “pork barrel” may have been included in the budget of the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH). This year’s DPWH budget amounts to P454.72 billion, higher by about P9 billion from last year’s P445.76 billion. The P9-billion increase, Lacson said, may have come from the funds of other agencies, such as the Calamity Fund, which is now only P15.75 billion when it was P37.25 billion last year.
“After all these years that I and my staff scrutinized the budget books year in and year out, I know pork when I see it,” Lacson said. It will, however, be very difficult to establish a legislator’s intervention or participation in a project.
We must laud the persistence of Senator Lacson and the support given by Senators Sotto and Pangilinan. In time, we hope, more senators and more congressmen will see the wisdom of removing themselves from the implementation part of public works projects, so that the allocation of public funds will follow more closely the needs of the people rather than those of politicians.