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Amid pork barrel controversy, poor beneficiaries have no choice but clamor for PDAF retention

NABUA, CAMARINES SUR – After President Noynoy Aquino announced the abolition of the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) when the Php10 Billion Napoles pork barrel scam exploded in the open, beneficiaries of the pork barrel system have quietly worried about possible loss of financial support that they receive out of the PDAF of lawmakers.

According to Ariel Royobe, a staff member of Camarines Sur 5th District Representative Salvio Fortuno, 2000 student beneficiaries have trooped to the lawmaker's congressional office in this town the past week to inquire on the status of the financial assistance that they regularly receive out of Fortuno's PDAF in the amount of P3,000 per semester to 3,500 college students.

The students have signed a petition asking the President to retain the PDAF because it is a critical source of finances for the education of tertiary level students in the Rinconada area (5th congressional district of Camarines Sur).

The Commission On Higher Education (CHED) has yet to make an official announcement whether or not it shall continue financing the education of the PDAF beneficiaries.

Royobe said that P10.5-Million every semester (P21-Million per year) are allotted for educational assistance from Fortuno’s PDAF.

Fortuno told the media on Sunday (Sept. 1) that aside from money spent on educational assistance, P30-Million of his allocation for social services go to  the lone medical center in Camarines Sur, the Bicol Medical Center in Naga City; the district hospitals, and even to specialist hospitals in Metro Manila that treat his local constituents, like the Philippine Heart Center, Philippine General Hospital and the Kidney Center.

Fortuno added that like other Congressmen in Camarines Sur, he has to take care of poor constituents in agricultural towns of his district that include Nabua, Balatan, Buhi, Baao, Bula, and the uplands of Iriga City who cannot afford various health services and hospitalization.

In the 2nd Congressional district in Camarines Norte, student beneficiaries of Congressman Elmer Panotes numbering over 2,000 “Congressional scholars” (the biggest in the province) have aired similar sentiments on the possible scrapping of their educational assistance from Panotes' PDAF.

In Gubat, Sorsogon -- one of the nine under-developed towns in the 2nd district of the province, Congressman Deogracias Ramos Jr. has even included burial assistance as among major social services financed by his PDAF, in response to clamors of poor constituents.

Based on the 2013 records of the Department of Budget and Management (DBM), a total of 6.12-Million have been drawn from the PDAF of Ramos and all spent on social services, including expenses for burial assistance, food assistance, medical and dental assistance and even transportation assistance for constituents in the depressed towns of Matnog, Barcelona, Bulusan, Irosin, Bulan, Sta Magdalena, Juban and Prieto Diaz. (SONNY SALES)