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Speaker belies hike in pork barrel in 2011

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Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr. on Saturday belied allegations that the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF), or the so-called "pork barrel" fund of congressmen, will increase in the proposed 2011 national budget.

He said the PDAF of congressmen stayed at P70 million.

Congressmen earlier complained that the initial guidelines issued by the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) in the implementation of the PDAF were "too restrictive" and that their requests already endorsed by the Speaker and the chairman of the Appropriations Committee of the House of Representatives were being returned by the DBM.

The lawmakers demanded a return to the old set-up on the use of PDAF, which allows assistance to local government units (LGUs) without conditions or upon the discretion of the congressmen.

In some cases, the amounts were used as intelligence funds or given to non-government units (NGOs), which are both hard to audit.

Belmonte said a broader list of projects under the category "assistance to LGUs" was agreed upon by congressmen in a caucus held Friday, all of which are easily audited.

He said this promotes transparency and accountability.

The other decision at the meeting was to ensure that each district will receive funding from the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) of at least P50 million to be spent by the DPWH without congressional intervention.

It was observed that some districts had as much as P2.2 billion allocation (2nd district of Pampanga) while others had as little as P1 million (2nd district of Marikina) in the proposed 2011 General Appropriations Act (GAA).

The Speaker said that no district will have less than P50 million for DPWH projects.

In practical terms, this would mean only an additional P1.2 billion in 44 districts of the country, he said.
Earlier reports said that there would be more pork barrel funds for congressmen under the proposed P1.645-trillion national budget for 2011.

From P70 million for each of the 278 congressmen, the PDAF has in effect been increased to as much as P145 million for next year alone, the report further said.

All congressmen except for party-list representatives will also get as much as P25 million each as their share of the Road User’s Tax, which is collected annually from owners of private and public vehicles as a motor vehicle user’s charge (MVUC), it added.

Belmonte, however, said that like the itemized allocation in the proposed budget for next year, the additional fund for DPWH projects is not "pork barrel" as congressmen will not have anything to do with its implementation.

Meanwhile, the Speaker said the all-party caucus was called as a follow-up of a meeting held Wednesday between DBM Secretary Florencio Abad, and a smaller group of congressmen mostly from the Visayas and Mindanao led by Cebu Rep. Pablo Garcia Sr., who had earlier motioned for the suspension on the deliberation of the proposed 2011 GAA.

The Visayas and Mindanao congressmen demanded for "equal" distribution of the lump sum budget in the proposed outlay for next year.

After the almost five-hour closed door meeting with the DBM chief, Garcia went back to the plenary and withdrew his motion. (PNA)




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