DBM admits more 'mistakes' in COA audit of PDAF - while distancing then-Sen. Noynoy from pork funds
The online news portal of TV5
The Philippines' budget department raised more questions than answers on Thursday after admitting it made "mistakes" that misled the Commission on Audit (COA) to disclose erroneous information about how some legislators spent their pork barrel funds from 2007 to 2009.
But at the same time, budget officials took pains to emphasize that then-Senator Benigno S. Aquino III didn't actually touch a P40-million pork barrel fund attributed to him during the same two year period.
In a statement, the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) said it "hold[s] the COA's methodology in great esteem," it needed clarify some inaccuracies in the body's special audit of pork barrel funds.
The COA report pertaining to a special audit of Priority Development Assistance Funds (PDAF) from 2007 to 2009 was discussed by Commission Chairman Grace Pulido-Tan last week. The audit paints a picture of inefficiency and opaqueness in the government's pork barrel system, making funds--supposedly allotted for roads, schools, bridges, among others--vulnerable to wholesale graft and corruption.
Recent revelations that as much as P10-billion in PDAF were systematically cornered by businesswoman Janet Lim Napoles in a grand kickback scheme already had citizens and civil society groups calling for the pork barrel system's outright abolition. The COA report underscored how that system had become, in Pulido-Tan's judgment, "kahindik-hindik" (disgusting).
On Friday, the COA highlighted a P3-billion pork barrel tagged to one congressman (when it was P70 million for each House member and P200-million for each senator), and a P20-million fund supposedly released to a certain "Luis Abalos" whom, it noted, did not refer to anybody on the roll of either chamber of Congress.)
Once posted online, Filipinos then went to work, scrutinizing the audit, raising questions about, among others, then-Senator and incumbent President Aquino's past pork barrel allocations.
A week later, the DBM has acknowledged that its own "encoding errors" may have misled the COA.
On Wednesday, the DBM owned up to "clerical" mistakes that wrongly attributed as much as P3-billion in releases by the Department of Public Works and Highways to former Compostela Valley Rep. Manuel "Way Kurat" Zamora. This same clerical oversight is being invoked by the DBM to explain the P20-million release to the non-existent "Luis Abalos," which the department now says refers to then-congressman and current Mandaluyong May Benhur Abalos, Jr.
As for a P40-million allocation attributed to then-Senator Benigno S. Aquino III--and for which anti-pork barrel citizens sought details--Budget Secretary Florencio Abad on Thursday said the funds were "not actually released during that period."
Even though the Special Allotment Release Order (SARO) of the former Senator's 'pork barrel' was approved, this "was ultimately not issued and the funds had gone unused," he said.
Abad also said the release made to Zamora amounted to just P500,000, bringing the third tranche of his Congressional Allocation for 2007 to only P10 million.
The DBM said the larger DPWH releases were "mistakenly attributed" to Rep. Zamora because the "special allotment release order, or SARO issued to the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) for the Preventive Maintenance of National Roads and Bridges nationwide shared the same SARO number (A-07-9539) as that for a PDAF allocation earlier released to Zamora.
Neither Abad nor Pulido-Tan could explain why the SARO had the same number as the one issued to Zamora.
Abad could only say that the DBM is studying COA's findings to help it establish more lines of accountability and identify areas for improvement. DBM has also formed an internal group that is reconciling data from the COA report with its own records.
DBM's move is in line with Aquino's order to stop all 'pork barrel' releases until the official investigation comes up with a "more conclusive" picture covering the extent of PDAF misuse and concrete details on accountability.
"The President's instruction for us to tighten PDAF rules is especially timely, now that budget deliberations are at full throttle. This is most opportune for our colleagues in Congress to signify their full cooperation with the Administration's transparency and accountability agenda, beginning with the approval of much-needed reforms in the management of PDAF," Abad said.
The DBM secretary also clarified that no limit or ceiling was recommended for the PDAF released to legislators during the 2007-2009 period that the COA audited.
"Before the Aquino administration, there was no cap on PDAF releases made to our lawmakers. There was a minimum amount, yes, but no ceilings were set for it," said Abad, who had been a representative of Batanes.
In 2011, the government began to cap the PDAF allocations to P70 million for congressmen and P200 million for senators.
"Even then, a legislator can still request funds beyond the allocation already set for him, subject to DBM's approval. This is particularly true in humanitarian cases with urgent aid requirements, such as the release of allocations from the Calamity Fund for a legislator's disaster-stricken constituents," Abad said.
In addition, PDAF was mainly used to "soft projects" such as purchase of farm implements, payment for livelihood training and social services, while "hard" or infrastructure projects are charged against the Various Infrastructure including Local Projects (VILP)
Abad said that the Aquino administration had since merged and streamlined both the soft and hard projects under the PDAF. "Not only did this make fund oversight more efficient; the fact that legislators only have PDAF to work with encourages them to be more judicious in weighing their development projects against the resources available to them," he said.