Negros Occidental congressmen yesterday said they respect the planned protest against the misuse of the pork barrel funds by some lawmakers, and agree that safeguards must be enforced to protect public funds.
But Rep. Jeffrey Ferrer (Neg. Occ., 4th District) and Rep. Mercedes Alvarez (Neg. Occ., 6th District) also expressed concern that abolition of the Priority Development Assistance Fund, or pork barrel, would jeopardize projects in their districts.
Rep. Alfredo Abelardo Benitez (Neg. Occ., 3rd District) said the PDAF is a lump sum item at the discretion of a congressman, who decide where to put it and who implements it.
The audit system does not adequately encompass the PDAF expenditures, he said.
To address this, legislators could just decide what projects to be implemented and leave them to the executive department to execute to ensure a check and balance, Benitez said.
Rep. Evelio Leonardia (Bacolod) said President Benigno Aquino III is in the right direction to suspend the release of the PDAF until an investigation is over.
“Then let’s see what corrective measures can be taken to prevent any form of abuse. The PDAF per se is not bad, it is those who abuse it who are bad. Why should the good apples be forced to rot with the bad apples? That’s not fair,” he said.
The Commission on Audit earlier reported that some P6.2 billion from the PDAF of 12 senators and 180 representatives had been transferred to 82 non-government organizations, including bogus ones and those set up by legislators or their relatives, from 2007 to 2009.
Ten of the NGOs also had links with businesswoman Janet Lim-Napoles, who allegedly converted P10 billion in the pork barrel of lawmakers into kickbacks.
Ferrer said abolition of the pork barrel fund would greatly affect the development of the countryside, especially in poor provinces.
“Instead of abolishing the pork barrel, proper safeguards should be put in place,” he said.
On the staging by the Negrosanons Kontra Korapsyon of a “Tipon Tipon sa Lagoon” in front of the provincial Capitol building in Bacolod City to air their outrage over the misuse of the pork barrel funds at 9 a.m. Monday, Ferrer said: “We respect the protest, we live in a democratic country, everyone has the right to speak, let us give them that right.”
The protest will be held simultaneously with a mass public gathering at the Rizal Park in Manila and in other parts of the country on August 26.
Alvarez said that if the administration feels that the PDAF should be reviewed, she respects that.
But she said “If it comes to a point that the PDAF will be abolished, then I hope the national government will provide funds for the programs supported by my PDAF such as the more than 2,000 college and graduate scholars, the medical assistance in the government hospitals, the PhilHealth beneficiaries and the social service assistance for the indigents.”
Alvarez also pointed out that she has contributed to the Negros Occidental Comprehensive Health Care Program of the provincial government through her PDAF.
Since 2010, strict guidelines on how the PDAF is used had been in place, and how it is spent is listed in the Department of Budget and Management website per district, per lawmaker, she said.
“It is unfair to deprive my constituents of the benefits of the PDAF because of the abuses and faults of others,” Alvarez said.
Rep. Julio Ledesma IV (Neg. Occ., 1st District) said “I have some ideas to make this win-win but I would rather say my two cents at the proper venue…Perhaps it’s time to square this away, involve the stakeholders, and come up with a baseline template in the upcoming recess and have something out before sessions resume.”
Ben Ortega, of the Bacolod Filipino-Chinese Chamber of Commerce and Industry, said the executive branch of government should see to the implementation of projects, not the congressmen.
Implementation of projects is not the job of congressmen, he said.
Frank Carbon, president of the Metro Bacolod Chamber of Commerce and Industry, said their group has yet to meet to deliberate on their position on the PDAF.
He said they are also waiting for the position of the Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry, of which the MBCCI is a member.*CPG