'Pork' agencies get huge budget hikes

Posted at 08/03/14 12:33 PM

MANILA - Agencies known to have been the hiding places for congressional pork barrel funds are getting huge increases in the proposed P2.606-trillion 2015 national budget.

Next year is the run-up to the May 2016 combined presidential-congressional-local elections.

The Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) will receive nearly P100 billion more, the highest increase among agencies. Its funding will jump from P206.6 billion this year to P300.5 billion next year.

The P206.6 billion includes P7.26 billion realigned by senators and congressmen before Congress approved the current budget in December last year.

The realignment was made shortly after the Supreme Court (SC) struck down the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) as unconstitutional.

PDAF was the congressional pork barrel. It allocated P200 million for each senator and P70 million for each member of the House of Representatives.

According to the Department of Budget and Management (DBM), P21 billion out of the P25-billion PDAF was realigned.

At least three senators joined most House members in diverting their pork barrel funds to the DPWH and five other agencies. Infrastructure projects funded by realigned funds are listed in detail in the DPWH budget this year.

Since the SC decision on the PDAF bars lawmakers from making post-budget enactment interventions, senators and House members were asked to submit their projects to agencies so these could be included in their budget proposals.

Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr. said on Wednesday, when the 2015 budget proposal was presented to the House, that he expected his colleagues to have done this.

If not, he said they could still do it while the House is deliberating on the proposal.

He said the SC ruling on the PDAF does not prohibit lawmakers from proposing projects for their districts.

What it disallows is post-budget enactment intervention, like the old practice of recommending projects to be funded out of the PDAF, which was a lump sum, he added.

Given the huge jump in the DPWH budget, it is apparent that most lawmakers focused their project proposals on infrastructure.

The Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD), another agency where senators and congressmen used to funnel their PDAF, will receive an increase of close to P27 billion, from P83.3 billion this year to P109 billion next year.

Its current budget includes P4.1 billion in realigned pork barrel funds.

Another beneficiary of realigned PDAF is the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority, which received P1.03 billion. Its budget will increase by P300 million to P5.4 billion in 2015 from P5.1 billion this year.

The P5.4 billion includes P2 billion for “training for work scholarship program” and P543 million for “training for employment program.”

The Department of Agriculture, which is a source of funds for the farm-to-market road projects of lawmakers, will have a budget of P88.8 billion, up by more than P20 billion from this year’s P68.6 billion.

The Department of Education also used to be a conduit of pork barrel funds. Its funding will increase by P83 billion, from P281.8 billion this year to P365 billion next year.

Some P3.25 billion in the P84.4-billion Department of Health (DOH) outlay this year represents realigned pork barrel funds. The money is for “hospitalization and medical assistance” for indigent patients.

The DOH will get an additional P18 billion for 2015, increasing its funding to P102.2 billion.

The Commission on Higher Education (CHED) is another beneficiary of PDAF realignment in the current budget, receiving an additional P4.12 billion for “scholarship assistance to students.”

The realignment increased its funding to P6.9 billion. However, for next year, there is only P2.5 billion for CHED, including P1.5 billion for “assistance to indigent students.”

The SC decision striking down the PDAF has made it difficult for budget watchdogs to flush out pork barrel funds. Before, the PDAF could readily be seen in the national budget, though it was a lump sum.

For next year, lawmakers’ project proposals have been included in the projects, activities and programs (PAPs) of agencies. It is hard to determine which PAPs were proposed by agencies, and which PAPs were recommended by senators and House members.