Lawmakers can't wash hands of bogus NGOs: TAN
MANILA – The executive director of the Transparency and Accountability Network (TAN), Vince Lazatin, said lawmakers should be accountable in verifying the existence and validity of non-governmental organizations (NGO) that receive their Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) or pork barrel.
On Thursday, Senator Jinggoy Estrada, one of the senators whose PDAF reportedly went to bogus organizations created by alleged scammer Janet Lim Napoles, said it is the Department of Agriculture's job to check NGOs receiving the funds and not the lawmakers.
But Lazatin disputed this, saying lawmakers cannot simply escape responsibility and they should know the background of the organizations they are dealing with.
“Are they not the ones ultimately responsible for how their PDAF is being used? They can’t just wash their hands and say, ‘It is not our responsibility. Because it is their responsibility and they cannot escape accountability just by saying it’s not us who determines the bogus nature of these NGOs,” he told ANC’s “Top Story” on Friday.
Lazatin noted that the scandal surrounding the release of funds “points to the weaknesses and the vulnerabilities of the PDAF to corruption.”
He also disputed statements by former Budget Secretary and now Camarines Sur Representative Rolando Andaya Jr. that the allocations of P200 million for senators and P70 million for congressmen are just the “base amounts.”
“In the many years that we have been following the usage of the PDAF, P200 million for senators and P70 million for congressmen has always been spoken of as a ceiling,” he said.
Lazatin also cited that the Commission on Audit report shows that if the amounts were indeed “floors” and not “ceilings”, then a majority of legislators should have exceeded the amounts.
“If Sec. Andaya is saying those were floors, I would really push him hard on that because it seems unlikely…I think he should be pressed on that to explain if those were really ‘floors’,” he said.
The COA report showed that at least 74 lawmakers exceeded their pork barrel allocations from 2007-2009.
Another irregularity in the report is the release of P20 million for a certain “Luis Abalos”, who is not a congressman in the 13th and 14th Congress.
Lazatin said the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) should be held accountable for the irregularity.
“If they are releasing funds on behalf of an individual who does not exist or who has never been a legislator, then I think at this point an agency such as the DBM should be answerable because they released the funds. They should know whether or not this person is in fact a legislator or not,” he said.
Lazatin believes that with the irregularities in the release of the PDAF, “public indignation” should now put pressure on the lawmakers to stop using their “pork barrel” funds for projects.
“The biggest loophole here is that legislators are given money for implementation of projects. Legislators should just stick to their jobs, which is to legislate,” he said.