SURIGAO CITY (MindaNews / 25 Aug) – As the rest of the country are calling for the total abolition of the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF), more popularly known as the lawmakers’ “pork barrel,” a few thousand students from Dinagat Island are praying it will remain.
Quite a number of scholars whose schooling are funded by the PDAF of Rep. Arlene “Kaka” Bag-ao, the lone congressional representative in the island-province, have expressed worry, afraid that their only chance at getting to school might vanish.
Bag-ao, when interviewed by MindaNews, claimed she has the highest number of scholars among congressmen all over the country – a total of 3,237 scholars for this school year.
“I’m worried over the abolition of PDAF. There is nothing wrong with it if properly implemented,” John Francis Cadampong, a 17-year-old student attending the Caraga State University in Butuan City, told MindaNews. He is from San Jose in Dinagat.
He said if PDAF will be abolished, it also means that his studies will have to stop, too.
Not all congressmen, Cadampong pointed out, are corrupt.
Bag-ao, who used to provide free legal services to farmers, fisherfolks, indigenous peoples, women and other marginalized sectors when she was working for a non-governmental organization, became famous when she defeated the well-entrenched Ecleo clan in Dinagat during the elections last May.
But Cadampong said that lawmakers involved in the pork barrel scam should be prosecuted and punished.
In the opinion of the physics freshman, the PDAF should be used for the benefit of the people, not for the politicians and the bogus NGOs.
Another beneficiary of Bag-ao’s scholarship, Arlene Solano, of San Jose, Dinagat, said her parents can’t afford to send her to school, so she is thankful of the legislator’s PDAF.
A single parent, Solano is now a third year student taking up Bachelor of Elementary Education (BEED) at the Surigao State College of Technology (SSCT).
“I need to finish my studies and eventually pass the professional examinations. I have a four-year-old son now,” she said.
Solano said the abolition of PDAF would be a great loss and disadvantage to poor people like them.
“Most of my friends in Dinagat never stepped into college because of extreme poverty,” she said.
Suzette Cuadra, a third year hotel and restaurant management student at SSCT, said she and her friends used to be out of school, but returned to college because of the PDAF.
She said that the PDAF brought not only scholarships, but also infrastructure projects like bridges and roads in Dinagat.
“We saw progress and development in Dinagat only when Congresswoman Kaka entered the picture,” Cuadra said.
The students are hoping that whatever the decision would be regarding PDAF, their scholarships will not be affected.
On Friday, President Benigno Simeon Aquino III, yielding to public pressure, called for the abolition of the pork barrel for lawmakers.
After the President’s announcement, Bag-ao said that the abolition of the pork barrel is not the solution to stop corruption.
“We are faced with a comprehensive issue that cannot be solved by the abolition of the pork barrel alone. The path that we must tread in order to move forward is the reform of the budget system in a way that will guarantee the equitable distribution of resources, especially for the poorest provinces. No one must be left behind,” Bag-ao said in her Facebook account.
Bag-ao said Dinagat is among the provinces which has been left behind in terms of share in government resources.
“We have used our PDAF in Dinagat to fund the needs of our constituents. We have allocated funds for scholarships as well as for emergency and medical assistance. National government agencies should ensure that resources are allocated to address these needs of the people in our district,” she added.