Palace: PNoy critics can go to court

Posted at 08/13/14 2:59 AM

MANILA, Philippines - There is legal redress for critics of President Aquino if they really believe he has retained pork barrel allocation in the proposed 2015 budget in defiance of a Supreme Court ruling against the fund, Press Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr. said yesterday.

Coloma was reacting to allegations made by the group of party-list Rep. Antonio Tinio that pork barrel funds were hidden in the 2015 budget.

The lawmaker presented as evidence audiotapes of a House executive session where Health Undersecretary Janette Garin and Commission on Higher Education chief Patricia Licuanan supposedly admitted the existence of pork allocation in next year’s budget.

Coloma could not categorically say, however, if there really is still pork in the budget program for next year.

“The 2014 national budget was enacted in a lawful manner and the executive branch followed the dictates of the law as well as what the Supreme Court had ruled on that,” Coloma said. “And Congress followed the ruling of Supreme Court in passing the budget program.”

Coloma also scoffed at suggestions that the audio recording of a House executive session by Tinio’s group was done in good faith, or the same excuse made by the administration in releasing funds through the discredited Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP).

“Malayo na yata iyong narating ng iyong katanungan (your question is way off the mark),” Coloma said when asked if Tinio and the other lawmakers may have had the interest of transparency in mind when they made audio recording of an executive session.

Meanwhile, Licuanan denied yesterday allegations that the agency had connived with lawmakers in retaining the pork barrel fund, officially called Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF).

In a statement, Licuanan stressed that there are “no PDAF funds being handled by CHED.”

Licuanan decried as baseless Tinio’s claims that she and other government officials “are perpetuating in secret the now unconstitutional PDAF to gain favor from lawmakers so as not to impeach the President.”

Licuanan said CHED has supplemental funds amounting to P4.1 billion this year for scholarships and grants.

Last March 10, CHED issued policies on the use of the supplemental funds in keeping with the SC decision against PDAF and with the GAA 2014 provisions on scholarships, Licuanan emphasized.

She said the CHED resident auditor has also been apprised of the guidelines and has been strictly monitoring their implementation.

“Funds for this financial assistance is referred to as ‘Tulong Dunong’ and has been provided to the CHED as part of its GAA allotment this year,” she said.

Licuanan said the scholarship funds would be distributed in accordance with the modes set in the guidelines: directly to student beneficiaries, through the colleges or universities where they are enrolled, through bank transfer, or through funds obligated to state universities and colleges or other higher education institutions.

“Given the substantial increase in funding allotment for scholarships and grants and in keeping with the constitutional policy of providing access to quality education for all, the commission prepared guidelines for the use of these funds and subjected them to internal consultations with its bureaucracy and, subsequently, with various education stakeholders that included representatives of Congress,” she said. – With Helen Flores