Five years after the Supreme Court in November, 2013, ruled as unconstitutional the “pork barrel” funds of congressmen and senators included as the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) in the General Appropriations Act, a new “modus operandi” has been exposed in the national budget now being discussed in the House of Representatives.
Under the PDAF, congressmen had been granted P70 million worth of projects, while senators had P200 million in the national budget. After the 2013 ruling, it seems the legislators sought to maintain the system through lump sums in the budget bill which were later used to fund their special projects by agreement with the various executive departments.
The budget is supposed to carry out the national government’s plans for the year, each department submitting to Malacañang its funding proposals for consolidation in a National Expenditure Program. This is sent to Congress by the Department of Budget and Management and becomes the basis for the General Appropriations Bill debated and approved in Congress.
Under the Constitution, Congress holds the “power of the purse.” “All appropriation, revenue, or tariff bills, bills authorizing increase of the public debt, bills of local application, and private bills shall originate exclusively in the House of Representatives, but the Senate may propose to concur with amendments.” (Section 24, Article VI, Legislative Department)
Since they are the ones assigned this function of approving the national appropriations, members of Congress believe, rightly, that they are not merely to concur with whatever the DBM submits to it. Senators, being elected nationwide, tend to see the budget as a tool for overall national development. Congressmen, who are elected by their respective districts, want to ensure that their own districts, provinces, or regions are not left behind in this total development program.
This year, Sen. Panfilo Lacson, who has never sought his share of the “pork, ” charged that the current budget proposal of P3.7576 trillion includes about P51 billion inserted by lawmakers. He charged that one reason some legislators want the “pork” is they get commissions of 10 percent from the contractors who get to carry out the projects.
Senator Lacson and Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon vowed to scrutinize the lump sums in the budget and remove items “parked” in them that are not consistent with the priorities laid out in the administration’s national economic plans. This will take a lot of work, considering that hundreds of projects totaling P51 billion are involved.
It is truly difficult to enact a budget that is totally free of projects that only a legislator and his district would be interested in. But all possible means must be taken, not only by senators like Lacson and Drilon, but also by members of the House seeking to break from the practices of the past and ensure, as much as possible, that government funds go to real priority projects in line with national development plans.