Time to abolish PDAF

PHILIPPINES - In Brief 24 Aug 2013 by Romeo Bernardo

With that statement, President Aquino may have hoped to head off a potentially high-strung "Million People March" set on on Monday against a decades-old practice of allocating funds in government's annual budget to legislators for their pet projects. Officially tagged Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) but commonly called "pork barrel", a state audit has revealed billions lost to ghost projects over the years and the Justice Department has launched a manhunt for the leading outsource facilitator of the scam. From trending talk in social media, Monday's rally is still on with apparently even greater fervor. Many view the President's statement as merely abolishing a name and not the practice. Despite suspension of remaining 2013 releases, the President had proposed a replacement mechanism, to start in 2014, that removes PDAF as a lumpsum, discretionary budget item while still leaving room for legislators' projects subject to a tighter screening process during budget preparation. After all, pork barrel funds are just as essential to the executive as to legislators since it is the means by which the former has traditionally been able to influence the latter, e.g., to pass priority bills. It seems to us that the President is caught between the necessary pork devil and the deep blue sea of popular dissent. An impossible duality? Will his attempt at a middle ground work? The verdict will depend on unfolding events, including Monday's rally and the progress of the justice system to make heads roll. Results of popularity surveys ahead will provide interesting reading.

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