How pork barrel has divided lower House
House Speaker Belmonte's head on the line in pork abolition
MANILA - The supposed abolition of the P25-billion Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) of legislators in the 2014 budget has become divisive, led to more assertive members of the majority, and put the House speakership of Rep. Sonny Belmonte on the line.
House Minority Leader Ronaldo Zamora said the leadership of Sonny Belmonte has been threatened by the emergence of a majority resolution seeking to support the PDAF's abolition.
Since Monday, the House leadership has been in a series of meetings with coalition partners to explain and consult on the abolition of the PDAF.
On Monday, members of the majority coalition supposedly began to circulate a resolution supporting the PDAF abolition.
In place of pork barrel will be endorsement of their beneficiaries to the executive agencies that will be tasked to implement PDAF projects.
Two days later, no copy of the resolution has been shown to the media and there are sketchy reports on how many really signed it.
On Monday, an ABS-CBN source said that there is demoralization and confusion within the ruling Liberal Party over the abolition of the PDAF in so far as the impact on their constituents are concerned.
This, despite their support for the President's position on lawmakers' pork barrel funds.
On Tuesday, NPC stalwarts Sherwin Gatchalian and Kimi Cojuangco expressed sadness over the PDAF abolition. The NPC is a coalition partner of the majority.
In contrast with the slow movement of the call to abolish PDAF, the resolution impeaching Supreme Court Chief Justice Renato Corona took just 4 hours to get more than the 1/3 of the lower House needed to send it to the Senate for trial.
Weeks ago, the left-wing Makabayan bloc filed a resolution and bill seeking to abolish the PDAF, saying it has been used by the executive for political patronage to ensure legislative support.
Zamora said, "Kung mga kalaban mo nagkakamali, bakit mo pipigilin? I think it is a mistake to go into this without thinking of the consequences baka mamaya pumirma sa resolution magsisi sila pagdating ng election. Nasa sa kanila iyun. We're all grown up people here but they better remember there are consequences to waivers kaya nga gusto ko makita ang resolution."
"I dont even know exactly what they want to do. There's a proposal to waive all PDAF. I don't know where the PDAF will go. I don't know if we're in the business of waiving PDAF and not asking the Senate the same question," he said.
"(Belmonte's) speakership is on the line. Pag speaker pumirmang una, He's in effect (saying) 'I'm behind this' and you would expect 270 should follow," he said.
"Everybody's waiting for the next guy to sign," Zamora said. "Kung gusto, you can get everybody to sign in a matter of hours kung ayaw. Maski mag-antay ka ilang araw, ganyan mangyayari. Simple, call an all-member caucus so we can discuss this out in the open."
Zamora said he has seen a draft of the resolution of the majority.
"I was shown a draft two nights ago. I'm uncertain whether that draft is the draft being shown to members of majority. We will not look at it until the majority has finished with it then and only then we will discuss it among ourselves to determine whether we will sign on or not. If the majority wants us to join, they should say so. From the beginning, members of the minority have been consistent in saying we should abolish pork but we've also been careful to say it shouldn't just be pork of legislators, it should encompass all forms of lump sum budgeting," he said.
Gabriela party-list Rep. Emmi de Jesus, meanwhile, said, "Lahat ng moves nila, gumegewang-gewang nagkakabuhol-buhol. Iyan nangyayari sa Malakanyang, sa Senado. Buhol-buhol na iyan, that's political reality."
1BAP party-list Rep. Silvestre Bello, meanwhile, said the reason the resolution has not snowballed is lawmakers are still trying to calculate if signing it can ease public rage over the pork barrel scam.
Bello said those implicated in the scam should go on leave.
ACT Teachers Party List Rep. Antonio Tinio, meanwhile, said: "Bago na ang mood sa Kongreso. Demoralization, paralysis. The leadership, at the moment, doesn't know what to do, particularly the budget, ano na gagawin. So far, ghost resolution. Everyone has heard, but no one I talked to has seen it, much less signed it."
"From what we heard, it doesn't go far enough. Sinasabing may abolition ng PDAF pero it appears mananatili ang discretionary privilege ng mga kongresista to allocate funds for scholars and so on and so forth. Batay sa naririnig natin, inadequate ang ghost resolution. Baka lalo magalit ang publiko," he said. "Malinaw ang panawagan ng publiko. Congress is going through the motions. The leadership is not addressing the elephant in the room."
Majority divided, too
ABAKADA party-list Rep. Jonathan dela Cruz said the matter of the PDAF has also led to the emergence of blocs in the majority coalition who have become more questioning and more assertive of the majority's rule.
Asked if this means that support for Belmonte and President Aquino in the lower house is waning, dela Cruz said the coalition is holding for now.
"It has become divisive, so we're leaving it to the majority how they will resolve this. I think the Speaker has been able to hold the majority together for now," he said. "There are other things that bind leaders together. Kami naman sa minority, konti lang kami. We will hold on."
Last week, the independent bloc allied with former President and now Pampanga Rep. Gloria Arroyo also filed a resolution to scrap PDAF.
Dela Cruz said the independent bloc will re-file a bill filed by then Senator Benigno Aquino -- an "anti-impoundment bill" that will bar the executive from "impounding" funds already approved in the national budget, and a measure to mandate that the executive report to Congress quarterly about the implementation of projects.
They may also file a bill to further regulate the budgetary processes. "Make sure that the budgetary processes will be reviewed and properly adhered to. As you well know, a lot of agencies are involved: DBM, implementing agencies, COA. Under the Constitution, NGOs should be audited by COA as long as they get either equity or funding from the government," he said.
"Ayaw namin mangyari na the DBM can hold the release of funds," dela Cruz said.
As this happened, Belmonte dispelled reports that some 80 neophyte lawmakers have signed a resolution purportedly put forward by his nephew, Rep. Kit Belmonte, that calls for the PDAF's abolition.
No one, not even the House Speaker, has seen a copy of the resolution that was supposedly withdrawn at Belmonte's request.
Asked about Kit's resolution, the House speaker in a text message said, "That is not true. I have never seen such a position paper signed by anybody."
As far as the majority resolution is concerned, Belmonte said he is is still consulting members.
The office of Rep. Kit Belmonte said they do not know of any such a resolution.
Asked if the PDAF has affected support for his speakership and the presidency in the lower House, Belmonte merely laughed if off.
Presidents have supposedly used the pork barrel system not just to push their legislative agenda, but insulate themselves from threats of impeachment.
The minority, meantime, warned the majority that nothing short of a total deletion of the P25-billion PDAF will be acceptable. The minority said the administration shouldn't merely re-channel lump sum funds to executive agencies.
Zamora also said the House should still investigate the PDAF scandal.