2 items in budget worth P38.1B are pork barrel in disguise — solons

TWO ITEMS in the proposed 2022 budget have been questioned by lawmakers as potential pork barrel funds that could be used by the administration for its candidates in next year’s local and national elections.

The P28.1 billion allocated for the barangay development program (BDP) of the task force to end communist insurgency is pork barrel, Gabriela Party-list Rep. Arlene D. Brosas said in Filipino during Monday’s budget hearing covering the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG).

On Sunday, Ms. Brosas said in a statement that a P10-billion allocation labeled as Growth Equity Fund for local governments is another “variant” of the pork barrel, or public money used for projects intended to influence voters.

“We’re hesitant because there is no list of (barangays) that would be given P20 million each under the BDP. There’s no breakdown for the P28.1 billion. This is lump sum, this is pork barrel,” Ms. Brosas said.

She questioned the lack of specific projects placed under these funds after Interior Secretary Eduardo M. Año said that 1,406 barangays would benefit from the program.

“How can we make sure that the projects from the (National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict) are implementation-ready? The project of some lawmakers was blocked because they were not implementation-ready, but there is already an allotted (budget) in the case of the BDP,” she said.

The barangay development program would provide at least P20 million each to villages that would be deemed cleared of alleged communist influence by the police, military, and local government units.

In this year’s budget, P16.44 billion was allocated under the BDP program for 822 barangays which were identified as former communist strongholds.

These funds, 99% of which were already released as of July, were used for infrastructure projects such as farm-to-market roads and schools, electrification, and livelihood and medical assistance, among others, according to a DILG statement.

Kabataan Party-list Rep. Sarah Jane I. Elago, however, said a special audit should be conducted on the implementation of the BDP, citing “discrepancies” in how barangays are deemed cleared by the task force.

Ms. Brosas also said BDP funds could be easily misused since the task force has discretionary power over which areas would become beneficiaries.

Mr. Año said they would provide lawmakers a list of the 1,406 beneficiary barangays for next year before plenary deliberations begin for the proposed 2022 national budget.

EQUITY FUND
Presidential Spokesman Herminio L. Roque, Jr., meanwhile, defended the insertion of a P10-billion assistance fund for local government units (LGUs) that Ms. Brosas said looks more like “Greater Election Fund.”

In a televised news briefing, Mr. Roque said Ms. Brosas’ claim is just an “imagination.”

Despite the start of implementation next year of a court ruling that increased the share of local governments from national taxes, Mr. Roque said an additional support fund is still needed because “not all LGUs are as wealthy as Makati City.”

“This is why there’s an equity fund, (which) will go to fourth, fifth and sixth class municipalities,” he said.

The Supreme Court ruling named after Batangas Governor Hermilando I. Mandanas clarified that the share from the Internal Revenue Allotment (IRA) of local governments does not exclude other national taxes. The World Bank in June said the IRA are programmed to increase by 55% in the 2022 budget.

Mr. Roque earlier defended the national government’s plan to continue subsidizing the development projects of villages that have cleared their territories of Maoist rebels.

The multibillion BDP of the government’s anti-communist task force is still needed for municipalities that don’t have enough funds for development projects even if they will get a higher IRA next year, he said. — Russell Louis C. Ku and Kyle Aristophere T. Atienza

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