Gabriela Partylist Rep. Luzviminda Ilagan ( photo by Medel V. Hernani)

Gabriela Partylist Rep. Luzviminda Ilagan ( photo by Medel V. Hernani)

by Tyrone A. Velez

Davao City  — A member of the Makabayan bloc in Congress said the P2.268-trillion national budget for 2014 is not fool-proof from corruption even without the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF).

Gabriela Partylist Rep. Luzviminda Ilagan, told Davao reporters here Tuesday, that the huge allocation for Presidential special and discretionary funds is still there and could be subject for misuse and abuse.

“It’s usually  for the purpose of patronage,” she said.

Besides, she said legislators could still identify projects with the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH).

The House of Representatives voted on second reading the proposed 2014 budget, trimmed down of the P 25.2 billion Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF), but retained the P 950-billion lump sum appropriations of President Aquino.

The approval in second reading is commonly the crucial phase of the passage of a law or resolution. The third and final reading is usually ministerial.

Davao City Third District Rep. Isidro Ungab, chairman of  the House committee on appropriations, explained the retention of the President’s lump sum appropriations, such as the calamity fund,to allow him leeway to address emergency needs in times of disasters.

House Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr. said the approved budget was crafted “for inclusive development to help sustain the positive momentum of growth and reforms for the past three years.”

The deleted PDAF was distributed to six agencies with the DPWH getting the bulk at P9.65 billion.

The Department of Social Welfare and Development gets P4.71 billion; P3.69 each for the Department of Health for hospitalization and medical assistance, Department of Labor and Employment and to the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA) for training and employment assistance.

A budget of P 2.66 billion was given to the Commission on Higher Education for education and scholarships and P 1.02 billion to Department of Education.

Misused presidential funds

Seventeen members from the House minority bloc voted against the budget, saying it still maintains pork in the President’s lump sum appropriations.

Ilagan, representing the seven-member Makabayan coalition, proposed during Saturday’s plenary amendments the rechanneling of the said lump sum to social services.  The proposal was rejected by the Liberal Party-led House.

Ilagan told reporters here that the Malampaya Funds worth P 23.6 billion,is a case in point. She said that the project sources its funds from royalties from multinational oil exploration off the coast in Palawan, which was never used for its purpose under law for energy-related projects.

“Under the law this fund should be allocated for energy projects. It should have been used for rehabilitating our hydro-power plants in Mindanao, for electrification program in rural communities or develop alternative sources of energy,” she explained.

“But what did (Aquino) do (with the funds)?  He bought not just second-hand, but vintage warships that are 46 years old. Why is he buying a rusty shell with the funds?” Ilagan pointed out.

Ilagan said the Makabayan wanted such funds returned to the General Appropriations and for Congress to approve its disbursements.

Not fool-proof
The lawmaker further said the new system of re-channeling PDAF funds to agencies is still not fool-proof from corruption.

“It’s still the congressmen who would still identify the projects. Instead of the Department of Budget, they would propose DPWH.  Now, how would you check on that, the DPWH is not an agency known for its transparency,” Ilagan said.

She is also worried that DSWD is getting more funds coming from PDAF. “Remember DSWD is taking care of the CCTs, which is another lump sum.”

She said the Aquino administration has resorted to giving an old mechanisms a new name that does not guarantee transparency.

“Our prediction was correct.  When the Countryside Development Fund (CDF) was exposed in 1996 for corruption, Congress changed it to PDAF.  We thought Congress would do the same thing. Now they are calling it DAP (Disbursement Acceleration Program).” said Ilagan.

Next stop : Senate

The 2014 budget would be passed for its third and final reading in the House when it resumes its session on October 15.  The Senate will deliberate on the budget.

Ilagan said it remains to be seen how the Senate votes on the Presidential pork.

“If the Senate can assert such changes, then it will be finalized in the bi-cameral committee. But if you look at the Senate’s composition, who is with the opposition, who is with Noynoy’s party? There you can see how they will vote,” she said.

Protests to continue

Asked whether or not protests failed to stop the pork barrel, Ilagan said they sent strong and spontaneous messages in the past two months.

She pointed out though that groups that centered their ire on Janet Lim Napoles, accused for plundering PDAF funds through fake NGOs, had limited the struggle.

“She’s just tip of the iceberg.  There are still many NGOs out there.”

Ilagan also criticized the Commission on Audit for “strip-tease” exposes that focused on the opposition and legislators linked to former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.

“Aside from abolishing all forms of pork and re-channeling the funds to social services, government should hold people accountable, so that these corruption can not repeat itself,” Ilagan said.

She said protests are still continuing such as the next Million People March this coming Friday in Makati, the country’s financial district.

“I see two groups doing these protests.  One group comes from the middle class whose members  are enraged by how their taxes are being misspent. The other are the ordinary folks, who have been deprived of services like medicines, schooling yet here comes billions of pesos going to the pockets of the few,” Ilagan pointed out.

Ilagan also challenged the media to fulfill its role as watchdog.

Mao kita media ang fourth estate. Kamo ang naay power (That’s why the media is the fourth estate.  You have the power) to sustain the watch on corruption. Kung ma-die down ni. Pataynaningaisyu (If this dies down, then the issue is good as dead).” (Tyrone A. Velez,

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