That was a brave thing ACT Teachers party list representative Tonchi Tinio did last week, revealing how the “abolished” congressional pork (a.k.a. Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) has been reincarnated in the 2014 budget.
In a forum in UP Diliman last week, Tinio produced an innocuous piece of paper going around the various congressional offices listing down each congressman’s pet projects which are to be funded by the budget salvaged from the abolished PDAF.
Wait. If PDAF has been abolished, shouldn’t its budget have been abolished too?
This is where it gets interesting. In complying with the Supreme Court decision declaring PDAF unconstitutional, Congress did a sleight of hand. Instead of simply deleting the P25.2 billion PDAF budget for 2014, our lawmakers in their infinite wisdom decided to distribute the fund to various line items in the budget.
In the Senate, senators were allowed to realign their P200M PDAF to agencies of their choice. Thus was Sen. Jinggoy Estrada able to give P100M of his former PDAF funds to the City of Manila, where dad Erap is the mayor (See “Jinggoy gives P100-M PDAF to Manila gov’t”). Fifteen other senators likewise realigned their abolished PDAF budget to where they deemed fit.
In the House, congressmen distributed their PDAF budget to five departments: P3.19B went to the Department of Health (DOH), P4.09B to the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD), P4.09B to the Commission on Higher Education (CHED), P2.04B to the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE including TESDA), and P7.39B to the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH).
Said funds are supposed to be treated as line item allocations that no congressman or senator may interfere with. At least that’s what we were told.
Comes now Cong. Tinio with proof that this is just a ruse. After all is said and done, legislators will, after all, continue having their cake and eating it too.
Consider that from Tinio’s document, each congressman has an allocation of P10.5M in DOH, P14M in CHED, P3.5M in TESDA, P3.5M in DOLE and P14M in DSWD of which he is being asked to list down the hospital/school/regional office that the money will go to, the amount, and his/her contact person for the project. In the case of the DPWH, the realigned PDAF funds were included in its line item budget after negotiations with the congressmen during last year’s budget deliberations.
The implication of all these is that despite the PDAF’s abolition, legislators have managed to retain their discretion over the salvaged-then-realigned PDAF budget. It is still they who will tell the departments how the money will be used, including who the beneficiaries, contractors and suppliers will be. In other words, tuloy ang ligaya.
But can’t the officials in the Executive departments tell their congressmen and senators that, “Look, sorry guys but you don’t have discretion anymore”? That legislators can probably recommend and refer but should not stick their dirty little fingers in the cookie jar?
To answer that question, imagine a hospital director whose facility was so lucky to have been allocated an additional P2 million from the realigned PDAF of Cong. X. One day Cong. X calls the hospital director and says “Direktor, yung pondo ko d’yan ay gagamitin natin para sa mga irerekomenda ko at sa mga gamot para sa medical mission, ha.”
Is the hospital director going to tell Cong. X that no, I can’t do that because you are not supposed to have a hand in the disbursement of the fund. Will he dare to get the ire of Congressman X? Ultimately the question is, does he want to keep his job?
The worst thing here is that the Aquino administration itself is conniving with Congress in undermining the SC decision (See “Abad defends lawmakers’ practice of recommending projects to govt agencies“). The fact is, by allowing legislators to continue identifying projects for their realigned PDAF, Malacanang is reincarnating the congressional pork barrel. And why not, since the biggest pork barrel of all is found in the President’s budget, with over P1 trillion in discretionary, lump sum allocations.
Now here is Tinio’s problem – the document he exposed is being denied to death by both the Majority and Minority (see “House leaders deny existence of forms giving lawmakers access to ‘hidden’ pork“). This is the code of omerta at work in our very own Congress.
As I said, Cong. Tinio is doing a very brave thing. I’m sure a number of his colleagues are annoyed by his whistleblowing and would rather he join the conspiracy of silence. Some have probably asked him to shut up. But knowing Tonchi, he won’t back down. He is not known as T. Tinio for nothing.#