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SC suspends 'pork barrel' releases, slaps TRO on 2013 PDAF, Malampaya Fund

InterAksyon.com
The online news portal of TV5

The Supreme Court on Tuesday issued a Temporary Restraining Order stopping the government from any further releases in the controversial Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF), as included in the 2013 General Appropriations Act.

The Department of Budget and Management (DBM) was thus effectively restrained from releasing funds what remains of the 2013 PDAF. The Court also barred any releases from the Malampaya Fund that will not be related to national energy development efforts.

The PDAF amounts to an average of P70 million for every congressman and P200 million for every senator. The congressional pork barrel system is at the center of public outrage over revelations that a network of bogus nongovernment organizations had siphoned billions of pesos from the PDAF. The alleged scheme, revolving around detained businesswoman Janet Lim Napoles, also suggests that legislators are involved in a grand kickback scheme.

The Malampaya Fund, on the other hand, is built on royalties from the Malampaya Gas Project off Palawan. The joint venture is managed by the Shell Philippines Exploration, along with its partners Chevron Malampaya and PNOC Exploration Corporation.

The minority bloc in the House of Representatives last month pushed for closer scrutiny of the multi-billion peso Malampaya Fund, which it said could be used as presidential "pork barrel".

Bayan Muna party-list Representative Neri Colmenares said while Presidential Decree 910, which lays down the rules for the use of government’s share of the revenues from the Malampaya Natural Gas Project, mandates that the money be spent for energy-related projects, it also allows it to be used for other projects approved by the president.

"Congress can impose restrictions, but it's very difficult if it's a lump sum amount," Colmenares said. "Even if there was no irregularity in its use, the fact that you can dispense it on your own, there's a possibility that there will be favoritism."

Minority Leader Ronaldo Zamora said the alleged misuse of P900 million in Malampaya funds for projects implemented through a network of nongovernmental organizations linked to Janet Lim-Napoles, the businesswoman accused of engineering the alleged P10-billion pork barrel scam, should serve as a lesson on the lack of scrutiny of the funds.

The matter, which allegedly involves at least 97 mayors, is being investigated by the Department of Justice.

"The problem with all lump sum amounts is that all sorts of abuses can come in if nobody is going to exercise oversight functions," Zamora said at the same news conference.

Quoting the Department of Energy, Colmenares said funds generated from the Malampaya oil exploration have totaled P173 billion since 2002. Of this, P38.8 billion were spent for the projects of different agencies approved during the administrations of both President Benigno Aquino III and his predecessor, Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, now Pampanga representative.

The Supreme Court, sitting en banc, particularly suspended Section 8 of Presidential Decree 910 which allows the President to use the Malampaya Fund for non-energy projects.

The High Tribunal issued the TRO on PDAF and the Malampaya Fund in response to two separate petitions filed by former Boac, Marinduque Mayor Pedrito Nepomuceno, former Manila councilor Greco Belgica, andSocial Justice Society president Samson Alcantara. The petitions have been brought together, and oral arguments for the same have been set for October 8.

The Senate, the House of Representatives, and the Office of the President have in the meantime been given 10 days to submit their comments on the petition.

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