Business Matters

Reforming the PDAF through the budget process

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On Aug. 26, National Heroes Day, what is being dubbed as a “million-people march” against the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) will be held at Luneta Park. With this upcoming movement against, among other examples, a glaring symbol of corruption in our society, Luneta may once again bear witness to another transformative milestone in our history: the start of an era of integrity.

A similarly intense public stand against corruption occurred in 2010, when the Filipino people elected Benigno S. Aquino III to steer the Philippines toward greater transparency and accountability. In the first half of President Aquino’s term, the country indeed benefited from his administration’s earnest drive for good governance. This is illustrated in our improving national competitiveness, the increased investor confidence, and the renewed vigilance of the people to ensure that these gains will be safeguarded, sustained and made inclusive.

It is in this context that on Aug. 18, the Makati Business Club, along with the Bishops-Businessmen’s Conference for Human Development, CBCP (Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines)-National Secretariat for Social Action, Justice, and Peace, Citizens’ Congress for Good Governance, and the Transparency and Accountability Network, issued a statement calling for greater prudence in the management of public funds. In the statement, we condemned, in the strongest possible terms, the systemic and repeated diversion of the people’s money for personal purposes, particularly the P10-billion PDAF scam allegedly operated by Janet Lim-Napoles, which implicated a number of our senators and congressmen.

At first glance, the PDAF is a tool that can directly address local needs. It can serve as a good complement to national development efforts, which cannot fully provide for the economic and social requirements of every locality, most especially those in far-flung provinces.

However, as with all tools, its role as a beneficial or harmful means to an end rests with how it is used. Despite its good intentions, the PDAF has also allowed corruption to infect our institutions and spread across its various levels. A crucial element to this problem is the wide discretion given to our elected officials regarding the disbursement of the PDAF. As a consequence, running for public office has become a very alluring prospect for persons of questionable motives, thereby barring our political system from maturity.

Thus, I commend the Aquino administration for adopting a strong stance regarding the PDAF, which is consistent with its mandate to purge corruption in government. The reforms announced by the President yesterday (Friday) will not only ensure the judicious use of the people’s money, but will also greatly contribute to the transformation of our politics for the better.

As a first step, I support the joint investigation of the Ombudsman, the Department of Justice, and the Commission on Audit. More importantly, I support the President’s position to prosecute all persons found to have been involved in this scandal and to hold them accountable to the full extent of the law. This should include individuals, whether private citizens or public officials, regardless of political affiliation.

It is also my firm belief that localized development can still be achieved even without the PDAF. This goal can be realized through the regular budgetary process, where Congress participates in its primary capacity as a lawmaking, representative body. The challenge for local organizations is to get involved and build their capacity as principal stakeholders in bottom-up budgeting, observing bidding procedures, and monitoring the implementation of projects. Through transparent deliberations on the General Appropriations Act, and subject to limitations on which proposals may be given support, elected representatives will only identify projects that will be given funding. Indeed, the representatives no longer have discretion as to actual implementation, including, among other things, the selection of contractors that will deliver on the commitments.

Adhering to the regular budgetary process highlights the principle of collaboration between elected officials and private citizens. The proper functioning of this partnership is very much encouraged in a democracy and is, in fact, at the center of the Aquino administration’s thrust for people empowerment and good governance.

As a final point, the PDAF scandal illustrates the vulnerability of public funds in general to misuse. Thus, I would like to strongly reiterate our call for the swift passage of the Freedom of Information bill. While there are ongoing efforts at further protecting public funds, this landmark legislation will ensure that the current and succeeding administrations will be bound by the highest levels of transparency and integrity required of public servants.

Indeed, the value of this piece of legislation can be seen in the comprehensive coverage of the press, which is instrumental in facilitating public discussion and involvement in the issue. It demonstrates the power of information to deter potential abuses.

With the encouraging developments leading to Monday’s protest, I am one with the Filipino people in expecting a speedy resolution to the controversy. Corruption has been pervasive in our institutions for decades, and it is my hope that with this issue prominently on top of the nation’s consciousness, a culture of integrity and transparency will be built and eventually become the standard.

Ramon R. del Rosario Jr. (rrdelrosario@gmail.com) chairs the Makati Business Club.

Disclaimer: The comments uploaded on this site do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of management and owner of INQUIRER.net. We reserve the right to exclude comments that we deem to be inconsistent with our editorial standards.

  • Carlos_Iho

    The writer is obviously a fan of the Aquino family and has benefited much from his alliance with the oligarchs.

  • jgl414567

    Magiging ningas cogon na naman ang million people’s march and will just be in vain kung hindi maparusahan mga nagsamantala sa PDAF at dapat sustained na talaga ang people’s fight against corruption movement na ito at magkaroon na ng chapter’s nationwide!

    • http://jaoromero.com/ Jao Romero

      that’s why i’ve said that marches are not enough. real action is needed.

    • Antenor F Cevallos

      Hindi po mangyayari yan, dahil tayong mga Pinoy ay likas na tamad. At wala akong problema sa pork barrel. Dahil congressman ang tito ng misis ko, nakakatikim kami kahit konti. At tiyak kong magpapatuloy kaming makakatikim.

  • kulkat8

    Scrapping the PDAF is a step in the right direction. The next big move must be to prosecute and punish all those involve in the scams regardless of political affiliation. These politicians have stolen from the people so they deserve the severest punishment that can be imposed. Corruptions issue is now focus on the PDAF scams but lets not forget the anomalies at the Bureau of Customs.

    • Scorpio15

      Kaya nga umalis si Lim. Hindi kaya ang Init sa Kusina. Hindi init pagdating sa Bureau of Custom kundi na-Susunog na ang Kusina sa uma-apaw na Corruption.

    • blowcoldblowhot

      Scrapping the PDAF is different from scrapping the pork barrel.

  • NAGMAMARUNONG

    ilang people power na ang nakaraan – kontra marcos at kontra erap! saan na sila ngayon. congressman si imelda, governor si imee at senador si bongbong! manila mayor si erap, senador sina jinggoy at jv, mayor ang kabit na g.gomez. sa lunes 26th mag people power na naman!

    • AllaMo

      Eternal vigilance is the price of freedom. Kasi pag napatalsik ang punong korap. bumabalik sa paghilik ang madla. Sana mula sa Lunes palagi nang gising sa pansitan at bantayan sa kaban nang bayan. Makibaka! Huwag matulog!

    • Oscuro

      Hopefully, if PDAF is truly abolished, not just “renamed” or “re-channeled”, come next election we might see different names instead of the typical that you’d read. Since the overriding motivation to run (PDAF) will be gone. It won’t be financially feasible for them to run anymore or even spend exorbitant amounts for their candidacy knowing it won’t be as easy to recoup their expenses without the PDAF.

      So hopefully gone are the days where it was easy as drinking water to dispense 1k/person to vote or not vote. Gone will be the days of the ERAP style cash giveaways.

      This might happen locally first. You might still see familiar names running on a national scale. But I think there will be a big difference. However if it looks as if campaign habits are still the same or even more intense. It only means to say that there are still more ways to make money in government.

      Use this as a sort of barometer.

      • NAGMAMARUNONG

        the names enrile, estrada, villafuerte, revilla, etc. will still dominate philippine politics, even sans pdaf. these people have talent or bright minds to create money making for personal aggrandizement. imho, what we need to overhaul is the justice system. look at imelda, gloria etc., what a disgust. that’s why i cannot blame some npa still in the background.

  • Josemakabayan

    Pass the FOI BILL , that way all government expenditures will be open for the people to examine and scrutinize. This may not 100 percent eradicate graft and corruption in government but surely with the FOI bill we may find other ways to plug it.!!!!?

  • TheGUM

    Pork barrel gone. Enter “earmarking.” There are pros and cons to this change. IMHO, it could usher in much needed reforms. But above all, Mr. Rosario and others are right about the passing of the Freedom of Information Bill. There is a need for authentic transparency.

    As such, with earmarking, who’s to say that specified projects in a congressperson’s area does not directly or indirectly benefit him/her or their family members? Sure, they’ll be required to sign a pledge that it doesn’t benefit them, but corrupt congresspersons can still payback their financial backers with a “nice road or bridge to nowhere,” which can enhance property values that they own. Right?

    So pass the FOI law. Simply changing pork barrels to earmarks doesn’t pass the smell test, without the FOI Bill that can enable us, the people, to check the details.

    • TheGUM

      Oh yeah, it’s not the pork barrel that’s gone. It’s only the PDAF portion of it that’s gone. There are other pork, including the president’s. Will this be line itemed in the budget process, too? It seems at this point, the devil is in the details. Sorry, but I smell a skunk.

      • symonwho

        And there are still discretionary funds of provincial boards and councilors in towns and cities. Remember a few years ago, Quezon City councilors have P40m funds each at their disposal wherever they want.

        These funds at the local level must also be banned.

  • bgcorg

    It might be good to look at the American system. The Pork Barrel System was replaced due to corruption also with Congressional “earmarking.” Still, it did not work; and the president is just fitting the dog with a new collar. We should be more creative than this.

  • sebastian abao

    Good and responsible government recordkeeping as required in Archives Act of 2007 along with FOI law are two potent means wherein the people can exact transparency and accountability in our system of governance.
    Archives Act underpins this by requiring that all government transactions should be properly documented and documents and records thereof be maintained stored safely until such time that they are authorize for destruction or transfer archives for permanent storage and use. If a government agency has no records of certain transaction, it is illegal and punishable under the law. If the transaction is not properly documented or falsified documents are used, it is illegal and punishable under the law. If the records then are intact and complete, anomaly or corruption can then be trace or find through these records.
    FOI is the key that will lead us to these government records that will tell us if government agencies and its officials and employees have been good or bad.

  • pipsirho

    Can you REFORM . . . G R E E D . . . in the hearts of legislators and government officials???

  • pipsirho

    “At first glance, the PDAF is a tool that can directly address local
    needs. It can serve as a good complement to national development
    efforts, which cannot fully provide for the economic and social
    requirements of every locality, most especially those in far-flung
    provinces.”

    Mr, del Rosaio, PDAF only ADDRESSES the GREED of POLITICIANS no matter how reformed!!! Your comment quoted above does not hold water. The mechanism for SOCIOECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT of EVERY LOCALITY, including the far-flung provinces, is PROVIDED for in the LOCAL GOVERNMENT CODE of 1991!!!

    The Code provides for the creation of LOCAL DEVELOPMENT COUNCILS in ALL LEVELS – provincial, city, municipal, barangay. The congressman of each locality is represented either personally or through a representative in ALL Local Development Councils. So the congressmen DO NOT PICK or IDENTIFY PROJECTS in ISOLATION; they have to provide their inputs in these councils.

    Two functions of the councils include: (1) Formulate long-term, medium-term, and annual socioeconomic development plans and policies. and (2) Formulate the medium-term and annual public investment programs.

    The questions ro ask: Are the provincial, city, municipal, and barangay development councils EQUIPPED to CARRY OUT their ROLES or MANDATE? Can the DILG Secretary be MORE PROACTIVE in overseeing the preparation of development plans and programs? Can they defend these plans, policies, and programs before the DBM, President, and Congress? Can they PROPERLY, EFFECTIVELY IMPLEMENT these plans,policies, and programs?

    • TheGUM

      Right on the money! Thanks. I must say I’m learning a lot from sensible commenters like you.

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