By Angie M. Rosales | The Daily Tribune
A senator yesterday called for the expansion of the coverage of the pork barrel investigation, to include even some of the government offices that have been identified as the “implementing agencies” of the lawmakers’ released Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) allocations, to get a whole picture of the fund mess.
“More than the abolition, I share the thirst of so many of our people to know the truth behind the allegations to this pork barrel mess. The whole truth is what is called for, and not accusations aimed at certain political personalities to further the interest of the few,” Sen. Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos said.
Marcos noted reports on the involvement of the Department of Budget and Management (DBM), Public Works and Highways (DPWH), Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) and the Agriculture (DA) in the releases and implementation of the purported misused PDAF funds along with other government offices.
“They too, should also be scrutinized and investigated for us to get to to the bottom of this and unravel the truth,” he said.
“We should look into the fund utilization not only from 2007-2009 but from 1986 up to 2012 and not only the senators and congressmen but all the departments of government and their officials,” the senator emphasized.
Marcos’ call came amid the forthcoming Senate blue ribbon committee inquiry on the pork barrel scam based on the Commission on Audit (CoA) special audit report.
Blue ribbon chairman Sen. Teofisto “TG” Guingona called for the first public hearing this Thursday.
“What transpired this morning is proof positive that though they may have been quiet in the past, their (People’s Million March vs. pork) gathering today has created a lot of noise. I one with what thousands of our countrymen have been fighting for despite the bad weather to abolish the PDAF,” he said.
“More than scrapping the pork barrel, we have to know the truth on this issue. The boss, the people, not only founs their voice. They acted to have their voice jeard.Shall we try to appease them with mere promises? No, they want the truth now, not empty or sinister promises,” he added.
Sen. Juan Edgardo “Sonny” Angara shared the sentiments of the public on the issue, saying that government leaders and officials should take the heed and realize that the “old ways have not worked.”
“People are angry and rightly so as they work hard and pay their taxes and then they see this great waste. This can be a chance for our democracy to move forward and develop better institutional safeguards for public funds. It should give momentum to the few who have called for greater transparency and accountability in the budgeting and spending processes of the government. As the saying goes, the price of living in a democracy is eternal vigilance.
“The old system which had lax safeguards against misuse must be replaced with more specific and limited projects, because everyone knows this money can be put to better use,” he said.
Sen. Bam Aquino, on the other hand, said that the the people’s impatience toward corruption and impunity is “a good sign,” citing the “Million People March” that mobilized thousands of Filipino citizens in different parts of the country on Monday.
The “Million People March” was born out of highly publicized “pork barrel scam” that amounted to at least P10 billon and allegedly involved dozens of lawmakers.
“The people’s impatience on this issue is a positive development for reform-minded public servants,” Sen. Aquino points out.
Toward this end, Aquino is filing “The People’s Fund,” a bill that aims to give taxpayers more direct control over public funds.
The People’s Fund “seeks to revolutionize public budgeting and funding by giving the taxpayers of the Philippines clear and concrete choices on where their money should go.”
It provides a mechanism for five percent (5 percent) of an individual’s income tax to be allocated to either of the following: (a) an accredited charity or civil society organization; (b) a national or local priority government project; or (c) a legitimate political party.
President Aquino’s allies in the House of Representatives claimed to be supportive of Malacañang’s move to establish an inter-agency body that would investigate and prosecute those involved in the misuse of the Priority Development Assistance Fund.
According to Speaker Feliciano Belmonte it is imperative for the government to file charges against those found to have illegally used the funds of the government.
“I’m in favor of it,” Belmonte said referring to the proposed move.
House Assistant Majority Leader Rep. Sherwin Tugna of the partylist Citizens Battle Against Corruption said that the panel could focus on the investigation instead of the House doing a probe on itself.
Anak Mindanao Rep. Sitti Djalia-Hataman maintained that the problem is not inherent in the pork barrel but in how it is being used.
She said that the people should not lose focus on the real issue that beset the program.
“We are one with the nation in our indignation against corruption. But in order to sustain this, we must not lose focus on the real issue, the PDAF itself is not the problem, but how it was misused and abused, the system that promoted and tolerated it, including us, and the public that remained silent until now,” Hataman said.
She said that the issue should not only focus on corruption in government but in the private sector.
“Corruption in all forms, by government officials in all levels, and even by the private sector, is what we must abolish,” she said.
Quezon City Rep. Winston Castelo also welcomed Malacañang’s move on the PDAF. He had earlier proposed the creation of a multi-sectoral body composed of members of church and the academe, among others, that would oversee the use of the PDAF
Malacañang has proposed the establishment of an Inter-Agency Graft Coordinating Council that would investigate the misuse of the pork barrel.
Meanwhile, some businessmen yesterday aired their sentiments against the pork barrel, saying the money needed for PDAF prompts the main revenue collecting agency of the government — The Bureau of Internal Revenue—to “twist the arm” of businessmen just to meet the yearly collection target.
The businessmen, who requested animosity, said when the PDAF is abolished it will be beneficial to honest businessmen because they will not be forced to pay taxes that the BIR is charging them every time their business undergo scrutiny.
“We are being harassed when there is inspection of our business. Most of the time the findings of BIR is we have misdeclaration. As a businessman you don’t have time to thoroughly study your financial statement.
“That’s why when there is an inspection, BIR authorities will always say we have misdeclaration,” one of the businessmen told the Daily Tribune in an informal discussion. The businessman admitted that as you do business you cannot assure that will be honest all the time.
He said that if PDAF will be abolished, maybe the strictness of BIR will be minimized. Another businessman said some of their colleagues are forced to give in to the offer of dishonest BIR personnel just to settle the penalty for mis-declaration offense.
“Instead of the P3-million penalty some of them would say we need to pay P1 million and the P1 million will be ‘for the boys.’ Although we will be able to save the shortchanging of government has been committed,” one of the businessmen said.
The businessmen said they cannot blame Commissioner Kim Henares if she is too strict in tax collection because the P1.2 trillion target collection for this year is not easy to meet. We admire the honesty of the commissioner but not those who surround her,” they said without elaborating.
They are united that the pork barrel should be minimized if not eradicated because it is a source of abuse and corruption. They also find it ridiculous why lawmakers in 16 cities in Metro Manila are receiving pork barrel if the item should be for farming purposes.
“It is intended for irrigation, farm or seaport-to-market roads and how come congressmen in Metro Manila have pork barrel? Is there a rice field or cornfield here?
“If they don’t want to abolish it completely maybe the best way to disburse the pork barrel fund is according to the number of constituents or the type of the area of the lawmaker represents.
In Batanes there are very few people but the congressman of that province gets equal pork barrel with the congressman of Quezon or Pangasinan,” one of the businessmen explained.
Efforts to get the side of any BIR top official proved futile as none of them responded to text inquiries.