House leaders: 2013 was ‘Year of Pork’
Manila, Philippines – Looking back at the year that was, two House leaders agree that ridding the national budget of congressional Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) or pork barrel was among their highlight accomplishments.
“It could be asserted that the single biggest accomplishment of Congress was the elimination of PDAF in the national budget,” said Quezon City 2nd District Rep. Winston “Winnie “ Castelo, the House Committee on Metro Manila Development chairman.
According to Castelo, abolishing the oft-maligned and graft-prone pork says a lot about Congress willingness to change for the better and also shows its sensitivity to the people.
“This move indicates the capability of Congress to address public opinion and to renew itself. Its elimination will enable Congress to refocus on law-making and come out with important policies. This is to be expected in the many years to come,” he said.
“I think Congress did a fair job of responding to the issue of pork barrel through self-introspection and the eventual abolition of the PDAF in the budget,” said Ifugao Rep. Teddy Brawner Baguilat Jr., who chairs the House Committee on Agrarian Reform.
The issue on PDAF, as alluded to in the statements of both Castelo and Baguilat, refer to the multi-billion peso scam wherein the lawmakers’ pork money – supposed to be used for projects in their districts is diverted to the pockets of enterprising individuals non-government organizations like those linked to businesswoman Janet Lim Napoles, as well as that of colluding solons.
Needless to say, the whole Napoles pork scam affair, which hit newsstands around the start of the 16th Congress in July 2013, gave a huge black eye to the House of Representatives (HoR) even as the Lower Chamber was coming off surprisingly good approval ratings from its performance in the previous Congress.
“We have passed a substantial number of important legislations and they are indicated in the Speaker’s report,” the Quezon City solon said when asked of the House’s performance so far in the 16th Congress, the last under the administration of President Benigno S. Aquino III.
Baguilat, on the other hand, thinks that Congress had an “average” 2013.
“Just about average. We fulfilled our annual commitment of passing a budget early. But we didn’t establish early our legislative priorities on important measures such as the FOI (Freedom of information), agrarian reform, mining reform and forest management and HIV-AIDS.”
“Thus, there’s still a sense of inertia and uncertainty on what’s next for the 16th Congress in 2014,” added Baguilat.
The FOI bill – perhaps the highest profile piece of legislation in this Congress now that the budget is out of the way – ranks high in the agenda of both House leaders. However, it remains to be seen if 2014 would be defined by the passage of that pro-transparency measure just as much as pork defined 2013.