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Ping bares PNoy govt’s ‘ugly side’

Public funds misuse done to foist ‘fiscal dictatorship’

Baring the bad side. Administration ally and former senator Panfilo Lacson bares to Leyte Rep. Ferdinand Martin Romualdez some of the points that he discussed before a general meeting of the Philippine Constitution Association in Makati City late Thursday.
FORMER senator Panfilo Lacson, a close ally of President Benigno Aquino III, spoke out Thursday night against the “ugly side” of the administration, accusing it of violating the Constitution and misusing public funds to impose a “fiscal dictatorship” to control all branches of government.
In a scathing speech at the Philippine Constitution Association, Lacson said the country was now saddled with a P P5.684-trillion debt that enabled the government to accumulate “savings” of P669 billion that was being used to impose a fiscal dictatorship and perpetuate greed and corruption.
Lacson did not spare his former colleagues in the Senate and disclosed that the senators even wanted to increase their pork barrel allocations to as much as P300 million each in 2006 under the leadership of Liberal Party stalwart and Senate President Franklin Drilon.
Lacson said the national budget had more than doubled under Mr. Aquino just in his first year.
“In 2002, the first national budget under former President [Gloria] Arroyo was P782.9 billion. Nine years later, in 2011, the first national budget under President Aquino had more than doubled to P1.645 trillion,” Lacson said.
“An ordinary citizen’s valid question is -- Why do we keep on borrowing when we keep on saving? I will venture a guess for an answer: Para may mapaglaruang pondo ang mga nasa gobyerno, (So that those in the government will have funds to play with,” Lacson said.
Lacson said the Executive department’s Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP), which the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) said was created in 2011, “surprised everyone, including myself and all the senators and congressmen, both active and retired.”
Lacson said the country has enough funds to sustain government operations year after year, but it always ends up short and resorts to borrowings.
“There are two reasons for it -- greed and corruption,” Lacson said. “One is obviously worse than the other.”
He said the country’s outstanding national debt in 2003 was P3.256 trillion.
“Ten years later, as of today, it has increased to P5.864 trillion,” Lacson said.
“Every Filipino, both living and unborn is P61,733.28 in debt, both to some foreigners and to his fellow Filipinos,” he said. “It is still counting.”
Lacson said the Budget Department has claimed that the P50 million to P100 million in additional pork barrel allocations to most senators after the conviction of the President’s political enemy, former Chief Justice Renato Corona in May 2012 came from DAP, funded by savings in 2011, amounting to P238.8 billion.
An undisclosed number of congressmen also received at least P10 million in additional PDAF under the same program.
He said the Budget Department said only 9 percent of the total P142.23 billion was allocated to lawmakers in 2011 and 2012. That amount or P12.8 billion was the equivalent to half the P24.8 billion in pork barrel allocated to congressmen and senators every year, he added.
“If the programs and projects were actual budgetary items in the General Appropriations Act, why was there a need for the endorsement of legislators? If the projects did not appear in the GAA and therefore still to be identified by the legislator recipients of additional PDAF under DAP, clearly, there were no items in the 2011and 2012 GAAs to be augmented,” Lacson said.
Worse, he said, the realignment crossed over from the Executive to the Legislative branch.
Lacson cited Article VI, Section 25 of the Constitution, which says: “No law shall be passed authorizing the transfer of appropriations; however, the President, Senate President, Speaker of the House of Representatives, Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, and the heads of constitutional commissions may, by law, be authorized to augment any item in the general appropriations law for their respective offices from savings in other items of their respective appropriations…”
“Having said that, we leave it to the Supreme Court to resolve the issue of constitutionality of the DAP as raised by Philconsa and five other petitioners,” he said.
Lacson said the Aquino administration was severely criticized in 2011 for underspending due to a very low absorptive capacity of practically all the departments and their line agencies.
In 2012, Lacson said, the total unused appropriations amounted to P216.1 billion, broken down into unreleased appropriations of P38.1 billion and unobligated allotments of P178 billion.
Two circular issued by the DBM – one authorizing it to pool unobligated allotments of agencies with low levels of obligations, and another shortening the validity of appropriations starting 2013 to one year instead of the usual two years for maintenance, operating and other expenses and capital outlays – were clear signs of a “fiscal dictatorship by the DBM,” Lacson said.
The Budget Department even tried to extend its ability to pool savings from the legislative and judicial branches and constitutional agencies but had to back down in the face of fierce opposition, he said.
Lacson warned that too much fiscal discretion by any branch of government would hurt the system of checks and balances as well as the efficiency of the national government.
Lacson said he wanted to support the President’s “straight-path” policy, but added: “I hope he does it while there is still time to rectify the flawed program.”
“The pork barrel system is ugly, more often than not, cruel, sometimes merciless towards the people we all swore to serve and protect when we took our oath of office,” Lacson said.
“It is for this reason that I laud and commend the Philconsa for questioning the constitutionality of the DAP before the Supreme Court,” he said. “I fully support your petition.”  With Macon R. Araneta

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