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Makabayan bloc files bill seeking to scrap pork barrel

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ACT Teachers Representative Antonio Tinio. Photo from congress.gov.ph

MANILA, Philippines — Despite knowing that it will be an unpopular measure, the Makabayan bloc on Wednesday filed a bill seeking to abolish pork barrel funds.

House Bill 1535 or An Act Abolishing the “Pork Barrel” System by Prohibiting the Allocation and Use of Funds for such Purpose” sought to get rid of pork barrel funds, which the bloc saw as “a massive source of graft and corruption.”

ACT Teachers Representative Antonio Tinio said the measure will most likely be met by strong opposition but said they would urge fellow lawmakers to support HB 1535.

“This is where public opinion comes in. We need to hear many sectors and groups taking a stand for the abolition of pork and the dismantling of patronage politics – the religious, academe, professional organizations, workers, farmers. They can exert the pressure that could turn the tide in Congress,” he said.

The Makabayan bloc is composed of five partylist groups in the House of Representatives. Seven lawmakers make up its group in the 16th Congress.

The priority development assistance fund (PDAF) otherwise known as pork barrel has been under intense scrutiny as the Inquirer ran reports on an alleged decade-long abuse of the funds worth P10 billion, involving 28 lawmakers and bogus nongovernment organizations.

Bayan Muna Representative Carlos Zarate knew the measure would face tough adversaries but said they would ask fellow House members for support.

“We will discuss this with our House colleagues and convince them that pork abolition will eventually be for the best interest of our people, especially the poor majority,” he said.

Zarate said they would first talk to “like-minded colleagues.”

Cagayan de Oro Representative Rufus Rodriguez has earlier called on the House of Representatives to look into the scam as it questioned the integrity of the PDAF.

But many House members felt that abolishing the pork barrel would not rid the government of corruption and would be detrimental to useful projects.

Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr. has earlier maintained that congressmen needed their pork barrel to assist their constituents.

This was also what Ifugao Representative Teddy Baguilat Jr. felt.

“This is not to imply that the Makabayan’s position has bad intentions. It’s just untenable given local political dynamics where many district congressmen are judged by their constituency on the pet projects and direct services they give to their constituencies,” he told INQUIRER.net.

He earlier described the pork barrel to be an “equalizer” for districts that lack funding for certain services.

Baguilat said that scholarships, medical assistance, small infrastructure like day care centers or water systems were among lawmakers’ projects which were “largely funded by PDAF.”

“What’s perhaps more realistic is to institute more safeguards to ensure that the funds are not malversed. Enforcement of DBM (Department of Budget and Management) regulations is the key,” he said.

Belmonte said that the DBM reduced the PDAF menu “a couple of times during the 15th Congress. It is quite strict now.”

Baguilat echoed this and said that the DBM had earlier reminded House members “that funds can’t be coursed through foundations and NGOs.”

“That’s why the PDAF is channeled to line agencies and LGUs (local government units) who have accounting procedures and COA oversight,” said the Ifugao lawmaker.

He said he was puzzled that there was a “breakdown” of the said system with other House members since all of them knew “this was prohibited under this administration.”

“If it occurred during the GMA (Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo) era, then that was the protocol before but as far as I know, this was prohibited under this administration,” said Baguilat.

Despite being against the scrapping of lawmakers’ pork barrel funds, Belmonte said that they still “have to continue measures that avoid abuse or fraud.”

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