Aquino to Scrap Lawmaker Budgets as Public Protests Threatened
Philippine President Benigno Aquino said he would abolish discretionary budgets for lawmakers after a government audit uncovered abuse and civil-society groups threatened to stage anti-corruption protests in the capital.
“We need to make those who abused the system accountable,” Aquino said in an unscheduled speech broadcast on television and radio today, referring to the misuse of funds used to finance social and public works projects in lawmakers’ local districts. “We are talking here of public funds that should benefit the people, and not the greedy few.”
Aquino pledged to stamp out so-called pork-barrel budgets after thousands of people turned to social media to criticize the system and threatened to attend a million-people march to Luneta Park in the capital on Aug. 26, a national holiday.
“If more information comes out -- that his allies are involved and he’s not doing anything about it, public condemnation gets strong and that will put his leadership into question,” Prospero de Vera, a political science professor from the University of the Philippines, said by phone. “There is so much greed involved and it shocks people.”
Revelations of the misuse of public money are “shocking,” Aquino said. Senators and congressmen had access to 24.8 billion pesos ($561 million) this year through the Priority Development Assistance Fund.
Aquino’s comments come a week after the Commission on Audit found that discretionary funds from 2007 to 2009 were spent on dubious projects, some lawmakers exceeded their allocations and some groups listed as recipients of the money couldn’t be found.
Courts froze the bank accounts of businesswoman Janet Lim-Napoles and issued a warrant for her arrest as part of an investigation into a pork-barrel case, Justice Secretary Leila de Lima said last week. Napoles and her brother are wanted over allegations they illegally detained a whistle-blower.
Presidents have traditionally used pork-barrel funds to retain the support of lawmakers, Ramon Casiple, executive director at the Institute for Political and Electoral Reform in Manila, said by phone. “When the legislature is given that discretionary power, there’s always a temptation for misuse.”
Aquino said funding for local district projects will come from the national budget beginning next year.
“Every line, peso and project will be scrutinized, just like all the other programs of your government,” he said.
Aquino ordered the release of this year’s discretionary funds to be put on hold until an official investigation is finished, Budget Secretary Butch Abad said yesterday. Two weeks earlier, Abad said the president thought legislators who use their allocations prudently shouldn’t be punished.
The pork-barrel probe won’t be limited to Napoles, Aquino told reporters after the speech.
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