SENATE PDAF NOT SUSPENDED — TRILLANES
More questions were raised yesterday on the motive behind the release of the Commission on Audit (CoA) special report on the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) and the swift decision of an executive inter-agency body to use it as basis for the P10-billion pork barrel scam probe.
A former Senate president raised issues practically putting into question the motive of state auditors in making public their report as well as the moves of the Executive concerning the alleged misuse of pork barrel by some lawmakers.
Former Sen. Edgardo Angara said the special report was raw and was still in the stage of validation.
“That’s why I’m wondering why there’s now an inter-agency, an Ombudsman action. Why are they taking palliative moves immediately? If we follow really the rule of procedure, it should be first validated if those assertions are really true because those are just initial special audit of a government agency which is subject to validation,” Angara said, referring to the controversy stirred by the CoA special audit on the PDAF which covered only 2007 to 2009.
Amid the ongoing Senate investigation into the CoA findings on purported misuse of lawmakers’ pork barrel funds, the upper chamber has not taken any definitive stance even on the suspension of its members’ availment of their respective remaining PDAF.
Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV yesterday contradicted Senate President Franklin Drilon’s claims on the supposed decision recently of the majority of the senators to adopt a resolution to suspend their PDAF until stricter measures are adopted.
“There’s no such consensus (in the Senate). We have not had any discussion, actually, (on our position) but it was announced that it will be suspended in the meantime to ensure first that reforms will be instituted to prevent it from being abused,” he said.
Days before the protest march in Luneta by those calling for the abolition of PDAF and the President’s public pronouncements on its suspension, Drilon issued a statement saying that the majority bloc senators will adopt a resolution expressing the sense of the Senate to cease from availing, accessing and utilizing their pork barrel funds until and unless stricter guidelines on the release of such funds are adopted.
The resolution, proposed by Drilon, is a collective decision of the senators in the majority coalition to cease from utilizing their respective priority development assistance fund (PDAF) allotments until such time that more effective and strict implementing PDAF guidelines are put in place by the executive branch.
It will be filed in the Senate’s next session, he said.
“The majority senators’ decision to adopt the resolution is a manifestation of their interest in making the use of the PDAF more transparent and open for scrutiny of the public that will help prevent the abuses and inadequacies which were observed in the CoA report. It is consistent with the expressed desire of senators to effect reforms in the use of the pork barrel funds in order to prevent the preponderance of abuses and malpractices in the use of the PDAF,” Drilon said in a statement dated Aug. 20
Drilon said the majority senators agreed to let the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) promulgate stricter and more effective implementing guidelines on the release of the PDAF and the determination of qualified projects under the PDAF menu as defined in the General Appropriations Act.
Angara said on radio the representatives of the Europe-based Transparency International, a global civil society organization leading the fight against corruption, has already made some inquiries and raised concern over the state of government affairs as a result of allegations linking some legislators to the pork barrel scam.
“They’re asking about what’s happening (here). But they know the (audit) procedure. Still, I gave them an initial report and I told them please don’t rush to judgement, don’t jump to conclusion. They know that under international protocol that findings of government audit is subject to validation and they understand that,” Angara, recently elected chairman of the Global Organization of Parliamentarians Against Corruption (GOPAC), said.
“It’s the issue of corruption, that’s why they called. Their main mission, main mandate is to monitor and do something about corruption,” he explained.
A requirement in an international and even national auditing rules is that the audit work should be conducted within one year or a year after the covered period and the report should first be embargoed as it’s release or accessibility will be prejudicial either to the entity or agency covered if there are some deficiency in documentation or loopholes that should be addressed, Angara pointed out.
“Otherwise, people will think it’s a dubious report. There are steps or precautions to be followed before the report is released. Just like in the case of the CoA special report, it created a frenzy, a feeding frenzy. It has become juicy news, even juicy international news,” he said, referring to the events that followed after the release of the CoA special audit report at the height of the so-called pork barrel scam orchestrated by the group of businesswoman Janet Lim Napoles.
While it’s understandable that the CoA undertook a special audit, compared to a regular audit in which the implementing agency (IA) being audited should be able to reply or air its side on the issue, still, it’s not a criminal investigation as they have to verify the authenticity of expenditure of public funds, Angara emphasized.
“Since it’s a special audit and it (documents) was taken five, six or seven years ago, the first obligation of the auditor whether public like CoA or private like SGV, is not to release it publicly because it is prejudicial to the agency affected, but also to confront the implementing agency because they have the main responsibility of deciding whether the non-government organizations (NGO)-beneficiaries are legitimate or not,” he said.
Angara repeatedly stressed the fact the so-called IAs as well as the local government units (LGUs), are the ones responsible in determining the legitimacy or the NGO or beneficiary whether it’s a private or government entity.
This bolstered the position taken by Sen. Jinggoy Estrada, one of those being alleged to have funded the projects of bogus NGOs according to the CoA report, that it’s not within their responsibility to ascertain the existence or legitimacy of their beneficiary.
“Technically and legally he is correct (Estrada). As a moral duty to the nation and to those who gave us the authority to identify projects, we should help the government, whether CoA or whoever, in doing the validation,” he said.
“(But) The first obligation of an implementing agency or LGU is to determine that the beneficiary-NGO is a legitimate (entity). It’s their duty, according to the law because they’re acting as the disbursing officer. Their second duty is to seek liquidation from the NGO. They should require the NGO to submit accounting and liquidation. And their third obligation is to report to the Senate committee on finance and the committee on appropriations in the lower house. That’s the comple cycle of accountability and transparency,” Angara, who spent almost two decades at the Senate, explained.
The issue on requiring a memorandum of agreement (MoA) or understanding (MoU) before any fund transfer could take place between the IA and the NGO-beneficiary is an additional requirement which was adopted in the 2008 or 2009 general appropriations act (GAA), he pointed out.
“There are guidelines and it was clearly understood and followed (in the past). Now I’m having difficulty understanding the situation why it seems to be the other way around, that it is the solons, senator or congressmen who has to ascertain whether the entity they’re endorsing is genuine or not or why they have failed to liquidate. It should not be the case,” he said.
Angara also disputed the assertions made before the Senate blue ribbon committee by CoA chairman Grace Pulido-Tan that there’s no law allowing the transfer of government funds to NGOs.
“There is. Maybe we should suggest to her to direct her legal staff to research on this. In fact, it was a separate law, in addition to the provisions of the GAAs,” he said.
“If only we could explain this to the public clearly that there’s process being required by the Department of Budget and Management (DBM), Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) and Congress on the use of public funds by senators and congressman, the controversy should have been avoided,” he said.
It’s a matter of proof, Angara further emphasized, on the issue of the lawmakers supposedly insisting their choice of NGO or those being “endorsed” by them.
Angara claimed that even during the pre-martial law days, the matter of NGOs being a beneficiary of government funds had been allowed.
And when the pork barrel system was restored in 1989 under the Cory Aquino government, a decade after, the DBM had set some guidelines, one of which required the implementing agency to be a government agency or LGU.
Alongside this development, Trillanes also raised concern over the possibility of giving the President or the Executive the blanket authority in the implementation of the pork barrel “funds”, in the event that it will be abolished and its implementation will be transferred to the hands of the Executive branch as the issue of corruption could be at its worst.
“What most of our countrymen do not seem to realize is that if this will be abolished, the national government which has no way of determining the extend of needed projects in remote areas, the planning (and the release of funds) will be centralized and there will be all sorts of lobbying directly to the departments.
“They will find a way. (If) your constituents from a certain municipality, barangay will seek help on a needed project, so the congressman or mayor will go to the concerned department and lobby intensely. So this will make it more powerful the President or (complicated) the central or national government. And in the event that the President will be replaced by someone like (former Pres. Gloria Arroyo) GMA, the funds will be easily abused. I just hope that the public will soon be able to realize that the problem lies not in the (pork barrel) system but the corrupt personalities,” he said in a radio interview.
While Trillanes is obviously against the abolition of the pork barrel system, he was candid enough in admitting that he’s not about to stand up and publicly defend his position, given the present situation.
“It has come to a point where the public outrage is tremendous. I don’t think the people is already prepared to listen to some justifications in this system...I will not stand up there and justify that system,” he said.
“Anyway, this PDAF is a ‘tool’ of the President, of the Executive as a way of having a good rapport with the Legislative. President Aquino has already made a statement how he justifies this system and what’s needed are some form of safeguard,” Trillanes said.
“We have put in our trust in the President in leading our nation when we elected him and this include the matter of the handling of issues such as the pork barrel, whether to abolish it or not,” he added.
In this light, Trillanes said the suspension of the availment and release of what remains in their PDAF allotment for this year came from Aquino himself and not because of the prodding of some lawmakers.
Trillanes said it was the President’s decision announced through the media to suspend their PDAF.
“There’s no decision yet on what we’re going to do next. But based on the decision of Pres. Aquino, a line-item (budgeting) will be adopted in the general appropriations act (GAA) to make transparent its implementation,” he said.
While the line-item budgeting approach is seen by many as way of continuing with the pork barrel system, Trillanes defended the move saying that it ensures accountability of the use of funds.
“Ang issue naman dito ay kung ibubulsa mo o hindi eh. Kung ito bang pork barrel ay hindi ibinulsa magiging issue ba ito ngayon? Kaya may public outrage kasi napunta sa bulsa ng mambabatas at conduits,” he explained.
“Whatever the position of the President on this issue, I will support it. Whether he retains it with the necessary safeguards, it’s okay with me because I have been always open in the use of my PDAF. I have been very transparent. You can actually see in my website how my funds were disbursed,” he said.
The Center for People Empowerment in Governance (CENPEG) also issued a call yesterday for the redistribution and socialization of the pork barrel funds in connection with the controversy.
Aside from this, the group also calls on Aquino to prioritize passage of Freedom Of Information (FoI) bill now pending in both houses of Congress.
CENPEG said that instead of Malacanang and Congress leaders colluding again to retain the fraudulent pork barrel in the guise of “requested” line projects, the national budget should be reformed to allow direct people’s participation in the planning.
The call was issued as it also asked that the traditional funding for PDAF should instead be used for grossly underfunded social services such as basic education, health programs, and socialized housing.
Dr. Temario Rivera, CenPEG Senior Fellow and current chairman said “As an alternative, the choice of projects to be funded must start with a bottoms-up, participatory process of budgeting involving legitimate representatives from civil society in the respective development councils at all levels of government.”
Bobby M. Tuazon, CenPEG director for policy studies, also said the key to resolving the controversy unleashed by the expose’ on the P10-billion pork barrel scam, is to render justice to the country’s millions of taxpayers.
He said the modality is to “redistribute and socialize” funds stolen by giving them back to the people in the form of pressing social services.
“All that it takes for this to work and restore public trust in government,” Tuazon said, “is for the chief executive and Congress leaders to at least for the moment stop acting like spoiled politicians and begin serving as true public servants.”
Rivera said the traditional funding for PDAF should instead be used for grossly underfunded social services such as basic education, health programs, and socialized housing.
CenPEG, is an independent think tank based in UP, has supported the calls for redistributing and socializing the traditional funds, among others, toward reinstituting the subsidies that had been cut by all administrations since Marcos to all state colleges and universities (SCUs).
Tuazon said the national budget should once and for all be de-politicized by re-channeling the traditional pork barrel funds to where it should go – public tertiary education as well as more health services and socialized housing for the poor.
He said that the Philippines is unable to meet the minimum Millennium Development Goals (MDG) in education, health, and housing services and this is partly because of misuse of funds and corruption despite huge amounts of foreign grants given to government every year. Alvin Murcia