By Samantha L. Colinco
AMID NATIONWIDE CRIES for the abolition of the pork barrel, former National Treasurer Leonor M. Briones said Monday that Filipinos should continue to pressure the government into action by being vigilant.
Chair of the Silliman University Board of Trustees, Briones added that aside from street protests such as the “Million People March” in Luneta, Filipinos can continue directing national attention to the pork barrel problem by relating it to the elections.
“The gathering is just the beginning. We have to sustain it even up to 2016 because if we don’t, the government will go back to its old corrupt ways. Let us pressure our congressmen and senators. Make pork barrel an election issue,” she said.
Briones added that the very fact that Dumaguete has participated in the simultaneous protest across the country speaks a lot about the city and that it added to the voice of the nation as a whole.
She cited President Benigno S. Aquino’s yielding to public pressure and calling for the abolition of the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) as one of the effects of a unified cry for change.
Briones explained in her lecture on the 2014 national budget at the Luce auditorium that the total national spending program is P2.268 trillion with P1.4 trillion to be approved by Congress and P1.161 trillion for government agencies. However, the P310 billion special purpose fund, from which the P25 billion pork barrel is taken, is not detailed.
She also said that the Philippines’ Gross Domestic Product growth on agriculture at 3.3 percent is ten times lower than that of construction and infrastructure at 32.5 percent. An irony because the poor and unemployed are in agriculture, she said.
Pointing out 2013 as an election year, Briones added that a report by the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) revealed that in five months alone, from January to April, the DBM disbursed more than P580 billion in government expenditures.
“And you ask yourself, where did it go? Largely infrastructure. But now that the storms and floods are coming, let us do an inventory, where are the roads and the houses?” she said.
Briones added that the “fundamental defect” of pork barrel is it allows the legislators – the congressmen and senators – to participate in the job of execution of the budget.
Although President Aquino has called for the abolition of PDAF, she said she does not believe that he will stop the pork barrel system altogether but that he will only itemize it.
“You can change the name. Like the pork that you can roast, fry and cook in many ways but is still pork, it is not true abolition if pork barrel is not stopped. It is more itemization,” she said.
Briones is the first speaker of the Eminent Persons Lecture Series.