Wednesday, June 25, 2003

Yesterday, as part of my daily morning routine, I was browsing the papers and I came across this:

LACSON used up PhP147-Million 'pork barrel' fund last year

OPPOSITIONIST Senator Panfilo Lacson, a presidential aspirant who earlier called for abolition of the "pork barrel" system in Congress, turned out to have dipped his hand into his own pork barrel last year.

Pork barrel refers to money from the national budget that finances projects identified by legislators. Lacson said as much as 60 percent of the budget for an infrastructure project is lost to corruption.

Except for Senators Joker Arroyo and Sergio Osmena III, all the other 22 senators either exhausted or used up a huge chunk of their pork barrel, according to records of the Department of Budget and Management (DBM).

Of the 200 million pesos allocated for the pork barrel of each senator, only 150 million pesos was released in 2002.

Arroyo and Osmena did not avail themselves of a single centavo from their pork barrel fund, called Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) and formerly Countrywide Development Fund, a source of kickbacks and campaign funds for legislators.

Pork barrel is composed of two items: the so-called "PDAF soft" allocation and appropriations from the Department of Public Works and Highways.

DBM records showed that as of Dec. 31, 2002, Lacson had availed himself of a total of 147 million pesos, three million pesos short of his entire allocation of 150 million pesos.

Lacson had used 100 million pesos as of Sept. 7, 2002, and 47 million pesos at the end of last year, according to DBM records.

On Feb. 26, 2003, Lacson delivered a privileged speech condemning the pork barrel system. On Monday he said that when he announced that he was giving up his pork he was referring to funds coming in this year. He said he wanted to help the government deal with its huge budget deficit.

Lacson said he was also disappointed with the way the pork barrel seemed to be "attended with corruption."

He said he had filed several graft cases against officials suspected of having made money from the pork barrel allocated to him in 2001 and 2002.

Among those he charged with graft in the Office of the Ombudsman were a regional director of the Department of Public Works and Highways, a district engineer, and a municipal mayor.

If Lacson was three million pesos short of exhausting his 150 million pesos in pork allocation in 2002, eight senators used their respective allocations to the last centavo.

Those who fully used up their allocation were Senators Edgardo Angara, Noli de Castro, Luisa Ejercito Estrada, Juan Flavier, Gregorio Honasan, Ralph Recto, Ramon Revilla Sr., and Vicente Sotto III.

Senators Ramon Magsaysay Jr. and Manuel Villar Jr. used up 78.5 million and 90 million pesos, respectively.

Senator Rodolfo Biazon used 149.95 million pesos, Senator Francis Pangilinan 149.00 million pesos, and Senator Teresa Aquino Oreta 140.00 million pesos.

The rest of the senators availed themselves of their pork barrel as follows: Robert Barbers, 102.3 million pesos; Renato Cayetano, 139.5 million; Franklin Drilon, 101.0 million; Robert Jaworski Sr., 112.0 million; Loren Legarda, 110.0 million; Blas Ople, 103.0 million; John Osmena 105,980,393; and Aquilino Pimentel Jr., 117.75 million.

A senator's availment of his pork barrel is not defined by party affiliation. Even Revilla and Cayetano, who have been sick and largely indisposed, have drawn heavily from their pork barrel at 150 million pesos and 139.5 million pesos, respectively.

Neophyte legislators De Castro and Pangilinan also used their pork barrel extensively - 150 million and 149 million pesos, respectively.

Ople, who was appointed secretary of foreign affairs in August 2002, drew a total of 103 million pesos as of Dec. 31, 2002.

Unlike congressmen who represent legislative districts, senators can spend their pork barrel for projects in any part of the country or for specific sectors.

Congressmen have a smaller pork barrel than senators. A congressman is entitled to 65 million pesos in PDAF and a minimum of 35 million pesos in public works fund.

All I can say is: "Ping, you're one hell of a big joke! Hanggang salita ka lang eh.

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