‘People’s Fund’ pushed in Senate

A NEOPHYTE senator wants the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) to be replaced by a “People’s Fund,” which would allow Filipinos to choose where their taxes should go.

Sen. Paolo Benigno Aquino IV broached the proposal on Monday, amid calls to abolish the pork-barrel system in the government, dramatized by a protest rally attended by hundreds of thousands at the Rizal Park.

“People are sick and tired of seeing their taxes go to waste when precious money could instead be channeled toward initiatives that truly benefit millions of Filipinos. It’s time for the PDAF to go and bring the power back to the people through the People’s Fund,” Aquino said in a statement.

He said he is ready to file a bill seeking to give taxpayers “direct control” over public funds through the creation of a “People’s Fund.”

He said his proposed fund “seeks to revolutionize public budgeting and funding by giving the taxpayers of the Philippines clear and concrete choices on where their money should go.”

Under the bill, a taxpayer can choose to allocate 5 percent of his income tax to an accredited charity or civil-society organization, a national or local priority government project, or a legitimate political party.

Senators stayed away from the protest rally against the pork-barrel system but some said they joined the participants “in spirit.”

Sen. Ferdinand Marcos Jr. said he was “one with the people” in seeking the abolition the PDAF, and more important, the truth behind its alleged misuse.

“More than the abolition, I share the thirst of so many of our people to know the truth behind the allegations to this pork-barrel mess.  We need the whole truth, and not just selective accusations to advance the interests of some,” Marcos said.

He also sought an expanded probe on fund use from 1986 to 2012 not only confined to lawmakers but to include all government offices and officials.

“We should look into the fund utilization not only from 2007 to 2009 but from 1986 up to 2012, and not only the senators and congressmen but all the departments of government and their officials,” he said.

Marcos said the Department of Budget and Management, Department of Public Works and Highways, Department of Social Welfare and Development, and the Department of Agriculture should also be investigated as part of the pursuit of the truth.

Asked about the anti-pork-barrel rally, Sen. Grace Poe said in a text message to reporters, “I am one with them in spirit. It has always been my position that those who stole from our government should be held accountable.”

Poe, chairman of the Senate Committee on Public Information and Mass Media, said she was bent on pushing for the passage of a “true” Freedom of Information bill that will public access to state documents.

“Having an informed and active citizenry are the strengths of a democracy. I will echo the sentiments of our constituents in the halls of the Senate,” she said.

Sen. Juan Edgardo Angara said the protest rally “can be a chance for our democracy to move forward and develop better institutional safeguards for public funds.”

“Leaders and officials should take heed of the winds of change and realize that the old ways have not worked. The old system, which had lax safeguards against misuse, must be replaced with more specific and limited projects, because everyone knows this money can be put to better use,” he said.

Sen. Loren Legarda maintained her position for a “total abolition of pork barrel under any name,” and that she would not use the PDAF until the end of her term.

Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV reminded the public that “PDAF or no PDAF, the real issue here is corruption.”

“We should start making the corrupt people accountable by charging them in court,” Trillanes said.

Assistant Minority Leader Vicente Sotto III said the pork-barrel system was no longer his “concern” since he would not avail himself of the PDAF “no matter what they call it” in the next General Appropriations Act.

Senate President Franklin Drilon said in a radio interview that one reform on the PDAF would be to bar lawmakers from identifying the implementor of a project funded by their pork-barrel fund, which can instead be done by the concerned government agency.

“The congressman or senator should have no say on who would implement the project. We should prohibit them from identifying the implementor. This is implementation, not identifying the project [implementor],” Drilon said in Pilipino.

The senator also expressed dismay over the blanket accusation of corruption against all lawmakers, following reports on alleged PDAF misuse, including those who were not named in the Commission on Audit report on its special audit on PDAF use from 2007 to 2009.