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Ex-generals join pork call, earn rebuke

Malacanang said Sunday there was no need to fear the people’s initiative being pushed by former Chief Justice Reynato Puno to abolish all forms of pork barrel. But presidential spokeswoman Abigail Valte slammed the retired generals for asking President Benigno III to give up his own lump sums. “There is no need to fear that [the people’s initiative]. We have no doubts over that because a citizen’s initiative is within the bounds of law and they are free to pursue that as they wish,” deputy presidential spokeswoman Abigail Valte said. “In any democracy that is part of our Constitution, they are perfectly free to pursue any means or measures that they feel would push their advocacies forward.” A people’s initiative would require the support of at least 10 percent of the total number of registered voters across the country and at least 3 percent of the registered voters in each congressional district. The Palace initially pointed to the Arroyo administration as the one responsible for  perpetuating the misuse of the Priority Development Assistance Fund. But amid the reports that the abuses continued under his administration, President Benigno Aquino III eventually admitted that the PDAF, as well as the realigned savings through the Disbursement Acceleration Program, were also misused. Valte was less genial toward the call of retired military generals for Aquino to give up his own discretionary funds. “There is no presidential pork barrel,” Valte said. “It’s a label that some groups out there would like to push upon the citizenry to turn citizens against the President and to divert attention away from the real issues at hand.” When pressed if she was accusing the retired military generals of being part of the unseen hands trying to bring down Aquino, Valte quickly caught herself. “No, not them specifically,” Valte said, referring to the Association of Generals and Flag Officers. “Perhaps the information on the matter [that the President does not have pork barrel] may not have been fully available to them at the time their statement was made.” Retired Brig. Gen. Rosalino Alquiza, a former AGFO president, had said the Malampaya Fund, the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp. fund and the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office fund should go to the National Treasury. Malacañang has remained firm on keeping Aquino’s lump sum allocations: the Special Purpose Funds that stood at P957 billion this year and the P5.25 billion President’s Social Fund as of December last year. “The Special Purpose Fund, by its very name, is self-explanatory,” Valte said in an earlier interview. “These are funds [that]...by their nature, could not be itemized. If we itemize these, and then there is an unforeseen event, expenses cannot be programmed under the SPF and we can actually be liable for [misuse] if we do it that way.” Valte said calling the SPF completely discretionary was “a little bit too general” because the allocations were identified. But compared to this year’s P24.79 billion PDAF, the congressional pork barrel is only 2.6 percent of the President’s SPF. The items under the SPF include the P1-billion contingency fund, the P98.72-billion Pension and Gratuity Fund, the P333.9-billion debt service fund, and the P319.84-allocation for government units. Social Watch Philippines lead convenor and former National Treasurer Leonor Briones has called on the government to abolish the SPF, which she has described as the “queen bee” of pork barrel.
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