Vice Gov Almario: Scrap PDAF “to be one with the nation but…”

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/30 August) – Davao Oriental Vice Governor Joel Mayo Almario has written a five-page brief calling for the abolition of the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) because it is “the popular call” and “it has outgrown safety measures for its proper use” but said the needs of the barangays “must be addressed.”

“The Napoles PDAF scam came at the right time when the Aquino administration is in full swing towards the ‘daang matuwid.’  The popular call for the day is abolish PDAF/pork barrel.  It may be rightly so as it has outgrown safety measures for its proper use.  Never mind if despite the PDAF’s unpopularity, there are still legislative districts whose PDAF allocations were put into good use.  Scrap it to be one with the nation,” Almario said in his five-pager on the PDAF which he emailed to MindaNews shortly before noon Friday.

But while pushing for its abolition, Almario proposed that the purpose for which PDAF was established “should inspire the administration to immediately find and establish a scheme so as not to lose steam in its effort for countryside development.”

Without PDAF, he asked,  “to whom will the barangay people endorse their requests for funding support for needed and vital projects which the local government units cannot afford such as energization of sitios?”

Thousands of Filipinos took to the streets on August 26 to express their outrage over the pork barrel scam.

Four modes

Almario, Representative of the 2nd district of Davao Oriental from 1998 to 2007, and his mother Thelma, representative from 1987 to 1998 and back again since 2007 until 2016, were among the legislators identified in the Commission on Audit’s Special Audits Office Report No. 2012-03 published in the COA website on August 16, 2013, on the PDAF releases in 2007 to 2009. The mother and son were cited for having projects funded from the PDAF whose supplier, PZA Trading, could not be located at their given address and whose items were overpriced, such as the 343 “multipurpose tents” their PDAF funded at  P37,500 to at least P43,000 each or a total of P14.58 million.

Almario said the representatives’ constituency work in the barangays, gives them the “actual picture of the real needs in the field” and makes their legislative work meaningful as it allows them to craft laws to address these needs but there other concerns that do not need laws but government funding support.

He listed four modes which can be resorted to: the PDAF which is equal to all districts at P70 million a year for soft and hard projects; coordinating and convincing the department secretaries to include in their organic budget funding for the needed project proposals “which explain why some districts get more than the PDAF;” congressional insertion or initiative in the departments’ proposed budgets is an alternative “though highly dependent on the lobbying skills of the congress member which also results to some districts getting more,” and funding support from the President himself.

“Whichever mode and assuming the request for funding support is granted, the concerned and appropriate government agency implements the proposed projects following the usual budgeting, accounting, and auditing rules and regulations,” he said.

“Un-Filipino”

He said people’s expectations of elected officials are high and an official becomes a “bad lemon” if he fails to deliver.

“For congress members to strictly stick to crafting laws and ignore the pleas of their constituents for assistance is the epitome of callousness and is very un-Filipino.  Thus, congress members as lawmakers include in the yearly appropriation law the PDAF.  They craft the appropriation law which contains PDAF.  Therefore when a congress member identifies a proposed project, it is not unlawful as it is in fact in accordance with the appropriation law,” Almario wrote.

He said there are allocations in local government units that are similar to PDAF, “for the same reason.”

He cited the Sanggunian or the local legislative bodies that pass appropriation ordinances  allocating funds for themselves to allow them to address the needs of their constituents.

“The names may vary from PDAF to Lingap to whatever term the local council may deem appropriate,” he said.

PDAF-type funds

But there are also LGUs that do not allocate PDAF-type funds for councilors “but they give their local chief executives a whopping amount so they can draw funding for their proposed projects against the allocation of their executives,” he added.

He said PDAF as a “ready source of funds” is not limited only to Congress or the LGUs, the Sanggunian but the Office of the President as well as other local chief executives.

He cited the Presidential Social Fund (PSF) while the governors and mayors, as executives, have their Intelligence Fund (IF).

Critics have referred to the Presidential fund as “presidential pork.”

“Both fund sources have much greater and wider latitude of authorized utilization compared to PDAF which follows a specified menu.”

He said the PSF and the IF are just two of what he called the “PDAF-like sources of funds “ of the executive.

“Add to these the crisis intervention fund, peace and order fund, gender and development fund, scholarship fund, anti-illegal drugs funds and many more which are all included in the appropriation laws or ordinances as lump sum appropriations to give the executive unlimited discretion and leeway in the implementation of projects and programs under these funds.  Rightly so, as they are the executives or implementors.”

“Great equalizer”

Almario enumerated step-by-step the process in allocating the PDAF until it reaches the intended beneficiaries.

In the case of the overpriced “multipurpose tents” for instance, he had earlier told MindaNews that they merely received the tents which their constituents requested, that they had nothing to do with the procurement of the tents and that he assumed that the rules on accountability were followed by the implementing agency.

In a text message to MindaNews on August 25, Almario said he had no information on PZA Trading “since it was DA that implemented the procurement process from advertising to delivery. Our participation was to transmit to DA the (request for) items needed by our constituents and to receive the items from DA and to distribute these items to our constituents,” he said, adding, he “assumed all transactions were scrutinized by DA’s resident auditor.”

Originally named Countrywide Development Fund, the PDAF, according to Almario, is a “great equalizer as it equals the unequal.”

“Every district gets the same amount regardless if the district’s congressman is a great debater or a silent member.  In fact, even a district whose congressman passed away or is imprisoned still gets the same amount,” he said.

He also noted that PDAF projects are usually those not covered for funding by the national agencies, citing as example that the Department of Public Works and Highways “may overlay millions worth of asphalt along national roads, but it cannot provide funds for a footbridge in a remote barangay even if it’s a matter of life and death to the residents therein.”  (Carolyn O. Arguillas / MindaNews)

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