POSTSCRIPT / August 25, 2013 / Sunday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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P-Noy hijacking protest rally against pork barrel

LUNETA HIJACK: President Noynoy Aquino is attempting to hijack tomorrow’s anti-Pork Barrel mass protest at the Luneta by promising to scrap porky congressional development funds and to prosecute those who had pocketed billions intended for public projects.

If not tamed on time, the protest against the plunder of the Priority Development Assistance Funds in the budget (popularly known as pork barrel) may whip up a political tsunami that could sweep away the Aquino administration.

The President promised in a statement last Friday to scrap PDAF, to tighten the system of releasing public funds for countryside development, and to prosecute those who stole pork barrel funds.

Tomorrow we may have a hint of whether or not the protesters, whose wrath had been whipped up by social media, will surrender their reform initiative to the President and his propagandists.

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REFORM PROMISES: Note a number of basic things about the President’s statement made in the presence of Senate President Franklin Drilon and House Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr.:

• The President only promised to scrap PDAF, whose abuse had triggered waves of protests, and to prosecute pork barrel plunderers. As of this writing, he has not done it yet.

• He did not share his thoughts on if or how the PDAF in the budget bill pending in the Congress would be removed, renamed or emasculated beyond recognition.

• He did not say anything about also giving up his presidential pork barrel which, at P455 billion, is much more than congressional pork. He may have in mind cornering the pork and its distribution.

• Under his proposed revised procedure for releasing pork barrel funds for hard projects of legislators begging him for funds, Malacañang will be the sole and final dispenser. His hold on members of the Congress will tighten.

• His revamping the criteria and procedure at the Department of the Budget and Management means that he and his DBM are just as responsible for the pork barrel abuse since 2010.

• He opened his statement by blaming the previous Arroyo administration – as is his habit — for much of the pork barrel misuse. He selectively skipped mentioning any questionable case during his 2010-2013 watch.

• While he cited Commission on Audit reports covering the previous administration, he was silent on CoA audit reports on his own pork barrel drawings during the time he was a congressman and a senator. If his pork record is clean, the people should be told about it.

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SUBJUGATION: Has the Congress been totally subjugated by the President that nary a complaining peep is heard from congressmen and senators as the Executive slashes and burns their peso farms while retaining his own discretionary funds?

Each congressman gets P70 million and each senator P200 million as PDAF in the annual budget whose release depends on how they stand with the Palace. Only senators Ping Lacson and Joker Arroyo do not avail of their pork barrel.

On the other hand, former national treasurer Leonor M. Briones said the President has under his discretion unprogrammed special funds totaling P449.95 billion. It seems this money will remain untouched by the reforms that the President promised to carry out.

The money, which is about a fifth of the P2.268 trillion in the budget proposed for 2014, can be used for patronage, more so if the release of congressional pork barrel will be tightened as the President threatens to do.

More billions are available to the President from his intelligence and social funds. No tightening of the release and audit rules for these confidential funds is being mentioned.

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ANGELES MAKEOVER: Over at the Clark Freeport in Pampanga, we were told that Angeles City outside the former US base is undergoing a major makeover to claim a rightful place among the emerging modern urban areas in the country.

The makeover was reported by City Mayor Ed Pamintuan in last Friday’s weekly forum of the Capampangan in Media Inc. (CAMI) at its Bale Balita (House of News) in Clark.

The city’s transformation is tied up with a grand plan to promote Clark and neighboring provinces as an investment and tourism destination.

The more visible transformation, according to Pamintuan, will be in a cleaner and more orderly city as could be seen in wider roads and bridges, better pedestrian and vehicle traffic management, and the relocation of informal settlers to permanent sites.

The road/bridge upgrading alone is backed by a P100-million allocation from the P5-billion infrastructure program approved by the Regional Development Coordinating Council, according to the mayor.

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SCHOOLS & HOSPITALS: Pamintuan, a former activist lawyer, expressed optimism that this “city of angels” could evolve into a major tourist area boasting of its culinary reputation with modern infrastructure and amenities at par with those found in other popular destinations.

The city now operates a college accommodating 1,300 students whose tuition is lower than those charged by private institutions. In addition, the mayor has initiated the raising of a special fund for the personal needs of poor but deserving students.

The mayor’s office is supporting 300 full scholars, and has signed a deal with the Clark Development Corp. for the employment of graduates of the Angeles City College.

Pamintuan also talked of his putting up of a 30-bed modern hospital housing a cancer and trauma center, and a coronary care unit. This will complement the city-operated dialysis clinic using 15 dialysis machines and charging much lower rates.

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of August 25, 2013)

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