Aquino passes blame on ‘pork’ scam to Arroyo

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MANILA -- Bristling at the tag “pork barrel king,’’ President Benigno Aquino III on Wednesday accused his predecessor, Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, of accumulating close to P1 trillion in discretionary fund to stay in power.


The President, assailed over the release of P1.107 billion in pork barrel to senators after the Senate convicted Chief Justice Renato Corona, shifted the spotlight on the Arroyo administration in the current saga of scams.

The President himself wondered whether portions of the fund were being used in a black propaganda against him.

“It could have surpassed P1 trillion. How much was lost, stolen and played around with, or used in transactions to stay in power?’’ Aquino said at the Brotherhood of Christian Businessmen and Professionals’ Grand Breakfast at the SMX Convention in Pasay City.

“Is it too much to suspect that this money is now being circulated to undermine your trust in daang matuwid (straight path)? To sow trouble and terror in many forms, and challenge those of us who had long been abused, and are now seeking justice to hold the violators accountable?’’ he added.

And while he’s become the target of criticisms over the large-scale misuse of pork barrel, the President vowed not to turn his back on reforms.

“I assure you, that even if I get threats or a deluge of criticisms every day, I’ll not turn my back on the opportunity to bring about change,’’ he said.

“I just shake my head when I get called pork barrel king even if I have removed the discretion to commit graft; I have tightened spending, stopped budget reenactment and insertion, misuse of lumpsum funds, and even the over-importation or rice. You be the judge of what runs in the mind of those saying this,’’ he said.

The President said that from Day One of his presidency, he and his Cabinet officials had been plugging the loopholes left behind by Arroyo, now an elected lawmaker detained on election and graft-related charges.

Proof of this, he said, was his Executive Order No. 1 creating the Truth Commission, but which the Supreme Court ruled as unconstitutional, and Executive Order No. 2 seeking to nullify “midnight appointments.’’

“Let’s be clear on this: neither the exposé of Mr. Benhur Luy, nor the arrest of Mrs. [Janet Lim] Napoles started our campaign against corruption,’’ he said.

Based on their “initial study,’’ the previous administration skimmed off P637.36 billion in savings from reenacted budgets; P23.33 billion in Malampaya fund, and P177-billion loan for rice importation, Mr. Aquino said.

“The fund that became discretionary and that could have been used to perpetuate the `padrino’ system is estimated at P836 billion,’’ he said in his speech.

These were on top of the P140.6 billion accruing from the  “doctored’’ automatic appropriations in the General Appropriations Act, he added.

All the four items add up to P978.29 billion.

These four mechanisms had been put to a stop, the President said.

“If we put it side by side with this: their average annual budget in close to 10 years was P1 trillion every year, isn’t this very abhorrent? That they had at their disposal a budget equivalent to an annual national budget and used it as they pleased?’’

“We’re not done seeking answers to our questions: Who did it, what exactly did they do, where did the money go, who benefitted? Who are the real culprits? We’re not doing this by chance. We’re gathering evidence directly from agencies, despite the traps,’’ he added.

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