Bangsamoro block grant not ‘pork,’ BBL panel chair clarifies

Muslim women from several organizations in Metro Manila rally outside the Senate on Monday, January 26, to call for the immediate passage of the Bangsamoro Basic Law. Senator Ferdinand Marcos Jr. on Monday said he is calling for the suspension of hearings on the BBL following the deaths of at least 37 policemen in an ambush on January 25 in Mamasapano, Maguindanao by MILF fighters. (MNS photo)

Muslim women from several organizations in Metro Manila rally outside the Senate on Monday, January 26, to call for the immediate passage of the Bangsamoro Basic Law. Senator Ferdinand Marcos Jr. on Monday said he is calling for the suspension of hearings on the BBL following the deaths of at least 37 policemen in an ambush on January 25 in Mamasapano, Maguindanao by MILF fighters. (MNS photo)

MANILA, Mar 4 (Mabuhay) – What pork barrel?

The chairman of the House ad hoc committee tackling the Bangsamoro Basic Law has disputed allegations that the block grant to be given annually to the Bangsamoro region is a form of pork barrel, and vowed to put safeguards in the bill to ensure the fund won’t be misused.

Cagayan de Oro Rep. Rufus Rodriguez confirmed the P27-billion annual block grant for the Bangsamoro region is a lump sum fund whose use will be at the discretion of the Bangsamoro parliamentary government.

“The block grant is not a pork barrel. It’s a lump sum fund but it’s not pork barrel. When you say pork barrel, it carries a certain connotation – that it’s used by senators and congressmen,” he said.

Akbayan party-list Rep. Walden Bello, a staunch supporter of the proposed BBL, likewise disagreed that the block grant is a variation of the pork barrel fund.

“I don’t agree. The expenditures will be strictly accounted for by COA (Commission on Audit), which will remain under the central government,” he said.

Critics of the pork barrel fund have defined it as a lump sum fund whose use is at the sole discretion of the President, legislator or group of legislators, or any public officer.

The block grant’s purported similarity to the pork barrel was raised at a press briefing in the House Tuesday, where two lawmakers expressed concern that the fund will not be subject to rules by the Commission on Audit (COA) and Department of Budget and Management (DBM).

“It’s like a lump sum but at least the IRA (Internal Revenue Allotment) of local governments is subject to DBM guidelines,” Zamboanga City Rep. Celso Lobregat said.

Under the Bangsamoro bill, a block grant equivalent to 4 percent of the net internal revenue of the Bureau of Internal Revenue minus the internal revenue allotments of local government units (LGUs) shall be automatically appropriated to the Bangsamoro region yearly.

The Bangsamoro region’s block grant for 2016 is estimated to be at least P27 billion, according to Senator Ralph Recto.

To prevent possible misuse of the block grant, Rodriguez said his committee will put guidelines as to how the fund should be earmarked by the Bangsamoro government.

“We’re going to put rules on how the fund should be earmarked, like a certain percentage of the block grant will have to go to education, and a certain portion to livelihood, infrastructure and so forth,” he said.

However, Rodriguez maintained that the block grant will not be subject to DBM rules since the Bangsamoro region needs to be granted fiscal autonomy.

“We want to give the Bangsamoro government the discretion on how to use its funds but we would put rules in place to ensure it won’t be misused, for instance to bloat items for personal services,” he said.

The ad hoc committee on the BBL plans to approve the measure sometime in May, when Congress resumes sessions after a break from March 19 to May 3.

Senate and House leaders want to pass the Bangsamoro bill on third and final reading by June. (MNS)

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