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Pork barrel king

By Manila Standard Today | Oct. 07, 2013 at 12:01am
2013_oct07_editorialThe President last week chafed at a new moniker that an irate public had bestowed upon him: Pork Barrel King.

Before a gathering of Christian businessmen, the man who likes to remind us that we are his boss spluttered in disbelief: “We have already done a lot and then they will call me Pork Barrel King.”

Are Mr. Aquino’s superiors— that is another word for “boss” —being unduly harsh? Let us examine the circumstances behind his coronation.

Pork barrel is the common name given to the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF), a discretionary amount allotted to each congressman (P70 million a year) and senator (P200 million) to fund projects of their choosing. For 2014, before the pork barrel scandal showed that some lawmakers may have diverted hundreds of millions of pesos into their own pockets, these congressional funds accounted for roughly P25 billion—certainly a princely sum.

But the royal treasure trove of discretionary funds lay elsewhere. Hidden from public view until the pork barrel scandal spread in unexpected directions, Mr. Aquino’s Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP) quietly gave the President access to more than P137 billion in off-budget funds to do with as he pleased.

Of these, Budget Secretary has admitted that 9 percent or P12.3 billion went to projects identified by senators and congressmen, over and above their PDAF allocations.

Even more peculiar is that all congressmen who signed the impeachment complaint against Mr. Aquino’s political nemesis, then Chief Justice Renato Corona in 2011, and all senators who voted to convict the hapless magistrate in 2012 received millions in extra allocations. Those who did not sign the complaint and those who voted to acquit Corona received no such funding.

A coincidence? Mr. Aquino believes we are all gullible enough to think so. By way of “disproving” allegations of bribery, he says the payments were made months after the fact—forgetting that deferred payment is a common mode of doing business—legal or otherwise.

Some of the best legal minds in the country now say the President’s DAP, in fact, is in itself illegal because there is no enabling law that allows the Mr. Aquino to take funds from various line agencies by calling them “savings” and spend them wherever he pleases. The President’s assumption that he can take these funds away from their congressionally approved uses and apply them elsewhere is absurd, the legal experts say. Certainly, the Constitution does not allow him to transfer these funds to lawmakers as a reward for services rendered.

With his crimes catching up to him, Mr. Aquino tried to distract us with his shopworn tactic of pointing a finger at his predecessor, who has been in detention since 2011 and who had absolutely nothing to do with DAP.

Given the President’s tarnished record, the more accurate designation for him might be “Bribing, Criminal and Finger-Pointing Pork Barrel King.” But there is something to be said for brevity, and Mr. Aquino should be grateful for small blessings. All we have to add is, if the greasy crown fits, then he should wear it.
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