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Aquino to get P1T pork in 2014

IN addition to the actual costs of running a government, the Aquino administration’s proposed budget for 2014 contains several hidden funds that can only be released with the approval of no less than President Benigno Aquino III himself. Former National Treasurer Leonor Briones made the claim as she outlined P1 trillion worth of undisclosed funds simply labelled as “budgetary support, intelligence, special purpose funds and unprogrammed funds” and these can be released only with the approval of the President. “I urge you to ask what is not there in the budget,” Briones told opposition congressmen who are reviewing the administration’s proposed General Appropriations Act of 2014 which has come under fire for depriving the judiciary of funds needed for its independent development and the legislature of its power to allocate the monies of the executive. Briones itemized the hidden funds in a briefing to Abakada Rep. Jonathan dela Cruz, Buhay Rep. Lito Atienza, Bayan Muna Rep. Neri Colmenares, ACT Teachers Rep. Antonio Tinio and Gabriela Rep. Emmi de Jesus. Briones and the opposition lawmakers demanded that the Palace explain the stripping its co-equal branch of its “power of the purse” that solely rests with the House. “The hidden and undisclosed lump sum and automatic appropriations amount to almost half of the P2.268 trillion national budget for 2014 [and] more than half of the budget that is placed under the discretion of the President. The President now has a huge pork barrel,” Dela Cruz said. Briones and the lawmakers cited the National Expenditure Program that showed the President having sole discretion over P1 trillion that includes budgetary support to government corporations, P45.7 billion; Allocation to local government units P19.7 billion; Calamity Fund, P7.5 billion; Contingent Fund, P1 billion; DepEd School Building Program, P1 billion; e-Government Fund, P2.479 billion; International Commitments P4.8 billion; Miscellaneous Personnel Benefits Fund, P80.7 billion; Pension and Gratuity Fund, P120.5 billion; Priority Development Fund or lawmakers’ pork barrel, P27 billion; Feasibility Studies Fund, P400 million. Under unprogrammed fund, several budgetary support funds were earmarked to agencies that also did not have details as to where the money will be spent, said Briones, also convenor of the Social Watch Philippines, which groups more than 100 civil society organizations. The unprogrammed fund includes Budgetary support to Government-owned and Controlled Corporations at P36.268 million; Support to foreign assisted projects, P16.124 billion; General Fund Adjustments, P1 billion; Support for Infrastructure Projects and Social Programs, P56.349 billion; AFP modernization program, P10.349 billion; Debt Management Program, P10.894 billion; Risk Management Program, P30 billion and People’s Survival Fund at P500 million or a total of P139.904 billion. “There are other funds under the Office of the President that includes the Presidential Social Fund that did not have amounts indicated,” De Jesus pointed out. Budget Secretary Florencio Abad said the PSF was “off-budget” because these came directly from the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office and Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp., which told lawmakers last week that they will likely remit some P2 billion to the PSF next year. During the budget hearing, Abad denied the President had been using such funds for his own pork barrel and stressed the President had been “prudent” in implementing the projects. But Colmenares questioned Abad as to why the President had realigned some P100 billion that was withdrawn from eight government agencies and put the amount to other projects even without the approval of Congress. “There is a total of P229-billion in Special Purpose Funds without the details but can only be released upon the approval of the President,” Colmenares pointed out. Colmenares also included “intelligence funds” under the President as part of the presidential pork barrel funds. “Intel funds, that is definitely pork barrel. The official only has to say where the fund will be spent in the guise of intelligence work,” Colmenares said. “When only the President can decide where funds can or cannot go, the deliberative congressional process becomes meaningless,” Colmenares pointed out. Unlike the P400 billion that is allocated for infrastructure projects of the Department of Public Works and Highways that even canals were indicated and where are the canals be constructed, a questionable item of P200 billion was placed for the construction of school buildings, Colmenares said. “Another item is the budget for school buildings worth P200 billion. There is no detail as to where these buildings will be constructed or that if these are for high school or elementary,” Colmenares said. Briones said the presidential power to realign funds in the budget makes the whole national budget his pork barrel. “If that power to transfer funds is abused, it is conceptually the same as being a pork barrel,” Briones warned. Under the Special Purpose Fund some P449.95 billion is a standby fund but Briones said there is nowhere in the Constitution that the Executive is allowed to earmark a huge amount for SPF. Briones said some P352.7 billion was allocated for debt service but the government is actually paying P796.2 billion for the principal under Automatic Appropriations. Dela Cruz said the Palace must reveal the details of the loans acquired by government that would merit such a huge allocation every year. Some P252.71 million was allocated for the payment of disability pension to war veterans who were 80 years old and above, she said. “There is also a feasibility fund allocation amounting to P400 million. What is this for? The lawmakers, particularly you who are here now must ask the Executive to disclose the details of these lump sum appropriations,” Briones said. “This spells danger because this budget can be used on sensitive political situation and the Executive must explain why it has huge accumulation of funds under its control and this only shows that the Executive is not democratizing the budget,” Briones said.
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