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‘2015 budget: Poll funds’

Watchdog says it’s all for LP in 2016 elections

THE former national treasurer said Friday that the administration’s proposed P2.606 trillion national budget is aimed at boosting the ruling party’s chances in the 2016 national elections, with at least half or P1.303 trillion in automatic and lump sum appropriations that President Benigno Aquino III can quickly mobilize.

“This is similar to the 2012 budget that preceded the 2013 elections. The government cranks up spending for infrastructure and construction the year before elections. Concrete projects create the impression of growth, though it is a challenge to sustain this growth for the next years,” said former national treasurer Leonor Magtolis Briones, a convener of Social Watch Philippines.

“In Philippine politics, elections are all about money,” Briones said. “Government spending places incumbent politicians and their parties at an advantage over their opponents for the upcoming elections.”

“Projects are credited to officials as part of their track record as the ruling parties would spend for projects in their allies’ jurisdictions. Opposing parties can be deprived of this spending, putting them at a disadvantage,” Briones added.

“SWP’s assessment of the 2015 budget reveals that practically almost half of it can be considered lump sums due to the lack of details and mechanisms for clear accountability. This makes the funds vulnerable to abuse,” Briones said.

“Only P1.739 trillion is covered by the GAA.

The rest are automatic appropriations and therefore, not scrutinized by Congress. The President’s Special Purpose Fund is P378.603 billion, the Unprogrammed Expenditures is P123.056 billion, Internal Revenue Allotment is P389.860 billion, interest payments (debt servicing) is P372.863 billion. This does not include Malampaya Funds which are also automatically appropriated, and Off Budget funds like the Motor Vehicles Users’ Charge and those coming from PAGCOR [the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp.],” Briones said.

Bagong Alyansang Makabayan secretary general Renato Reyes Jr. said the Palace was laying the groundwork for institutionalizing presidential pork in the mold of its now discredited Disburesment Acceleration Program.

“Through a legislative sleight of hand, Aquino now wants to redefine the term savings in the six-volume General Appropriations Act, and thus empower the President to realign funds at the middle of the year,” Reyes said.

“This is dangerous considering that 2015 precedes an election year. The lump sum appropriations together with so-called early savings could thus be part of the Liberal Party’s campaign war chest,” Reyes said.

Instead of lump sums, Social Watch supports increasing allocations to agencies for social development, such as health, education and employment.

Agencies are required to make regular reports on their expenditures, making transparency and accountability easier to trace and establish.

“The presence of lump sums in the budget, especially for one that precedes the elections, makes public funds all the more vulnerable,” Briones said.

This early, however, and though 2014 is far from over, the Aquino administration has already estimated that the national government may retain some P251.78 billion in “savings” this year, said

Kabataan Rep. Terry Ridon, citing the 2015 National Expenditure Program (NEP).

Based on the 2015 NEP submitted to Congress by Budget Secretary Florencio Abad last Wednesday, the government expects that some P251.78 billion of the P2.26 trillion national budget for the current year will not be spent.

Based on the adjusted values presented by the Department of Budget and Management in the 2015 NEP, only P1.74 trillion of the total P2.26 trillion budget for 2014 is available, Ridon said.

Of this amount, DBM projects that only P1.489 trillion would be spent this year.

Of the P251.78-billion estimated unused appropriation for 2014, unreleased appropriations account for P175.3 billion, while unobligated allotments account for an estimated P76.4 billion, Ridon said.

Unreleased appropriations are funds for approved programs, activities, and projects that have not been released by DBM.

Unobligated allotments are funds already available for disbursement but have not been spent by the implementing agency for various reasons, including the final discontinuance or abandonment of a certain program, activity or project.

“DBM’s P251.78 billion estimated savings for 2014 is greater than the actual amount spent or P144 billion for the 116 projects under the DAP,” Ridon said.

With such huge savings targeted by the national government, the re-emergence of DAP or another DAP-like mechanism in the near future will likely occur, Ridon said.

Reyes accused the Aquino government of eyeing more pork barrel funds in the 2015 budget as it prepares for the 2016 elections.

Reyes said his group expressed grave concern over reports of lump sum appropriations as well as proposals to redefines savings in the General Appropriations Act.

“Aquino is trying to reverse the people’s gains in abolishing all forms of pork barrel funds. He is obviously trying to circumvent the SC ruling vs DAP. He continues to push for the power to arbitrarily declare savings and realign funds to pet projects. He treats public funds as pork barrel funds spent under the sole discretion of his office. The term fiscal dictatorship has never been as real as it is now. Will Congress simply roll over and go along with this plan?” Reyes said.

“The public needs to closely scrutinize how the government is executing the 2014 national budget. Though the government claims that DAP has already been discontinued since December 2013, a similar mechanism might be in the works to ensure that savings would be incurred,” Ridon said.

Ridon also said the Executive department should not even try to implement new programs, activities, or projects not covered by the 2014 GAA through the estimated unused appropriations.

“However, I fear that the Aquino administration is at it again. Unfazed by the SC decision, the President and his cohorts might be devising a new plan to divert... public funds even as we speak,” Ridon said.

Ridon also called on DBM to account for the P203.4 billion actual unused appropriations for fiscal year 2013, as is shown in the 2015 NEP.

“Of the P203.4 billion actual unused appropriations for 2013, unreleased appropriations total P56.1 billion, while unobligated allotments account for P147.3 billion.

“The Executive branch must clearly disclose where these unused funds went. Did they tap the P203.4 billion unused appropriations for DAP? We are talking about billions of pesos here – a marginal note in the NEP is not enough,” Ridon said.

The House committee on appropriations has scheduled the preliminary hearing of the Palace’s proposed P2.606-trillion national budget for 2015 on Aug. 6.

Davao City Rep. Isidro Ungab, the panel chairman, said his committee would thoroughly review the budget proposal of every government agency and find out if it is justifiable.

“We just received the budget bill. We are going to review, scrutinize the same and ask the agencies to explain the budget their respective offices proposed,” Ungab told the Manila Standard in a text message.

Next year’s spending plan includes a P2.7 billion budget to be used for the preparations for the eventual passage of the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law, which will pave the way for the creation of the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region.

Earlier, Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr. vowed to swiftly act on the budget proposal.

Critics have said the 2015 budget is “the most expensive budget” as it nearly doubled the P1.434- trillion budget of the previous administration in 2009 under former president and now Pampanga Rep. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.

The new budget proposal is 15.1 percent higher from the current year’s P2.265-trillion budget, representing 18.4 percent of the country’s gross domestic product and reflecting the jump in the administration’s growth assumption of 7.0-8.0 percent for 2015.

Budget Secretary Florencio Abad said the budget was “an expression of the President’s unerring commitment to bring inclusive socio-economic development to the people.”

Government projects that 2 percent of the total budget or P283.7 billion will be the deficit for the year, which will be covered by loans for the next fiscal year.

At least 86 percent of the prospective loans will be sought from local sources while the rest from international funding agencies, Abad said.

By expense class, the budget for national defense will receive the biggest increase of 29 percent, followed by economic services with 18.1 percent and general public services with 16.7 percent.

The increased allocation for national defense, an obvious move to counter China’s growing aggression in the West Philippine Sea, is 4.4 percent of the total proposed General Appropriations Act.

Social services will receive 37 percent or P967.9 billion; economic services, 26.9 percent or P700.2 billion; general public services, P16.2 percent or P423.1 billion; and debt servicing P399.4 billion or 20.6 percent.

Now running for six years, the CCT program of the Department of Social Welfare and Development, which critics dismiss as mere dole to the poor, increased from P62 billion in 2014 to P64.7 billion with 4.4 million poor Filipinos as targeted beneficiaries.

The Department of Education remained on top of the proposed expenditures with an allocation of P364.95 billion, followed by the Department of Public Works and Highways with P300.51 billion and Department of National Defense with P144 billion.

Appropriations for the Department of Interior and Local Government are P141.423 billion; Department of Social Welfare Development, P108.9 billion; Department of Health, P102.1 billion; Department of Agriculture, P88.8 billion; Department Transportation and Communications, P59.463 billion; Department of Environment and Natural Resources P21.29 billion and the judiciary, P20.2 billion.

Senate Majority Leader Alan Peter Cayetano on Friday agreed with other administration allies that Congress can pass a law or joint resolution to redefine government “savings” to avoid having the Supreme Court rule actions taken by the Executive department as unconstitutional, as it did with the DAP.

He noted that one of the parameters laid down by the Supreme Court in interpreting the definition of savings pointed to Congress as that wielding the power of the purse.

He said the Supreme Court also noted that the Executive branch of government is tasked to enforce the laws made by Congress and to spend in accordance with the provisions of the GAA.

“Congress must recognize the need for flexibility in budget execution, and that savings should be actual,” said Cayetano, a staunch administration ally.

Senator Francis Escudero, chairman of the Senate finance committee, said he was confident Congress would support the President’s request that they redefine the term savings.

“We will define when they can be allowed to use savings, where and how, in accordance with the decision of the court,” said Escudero.

He guaranteed the Senate will ensure the P2.606-trillion 2015 national budget will comply with the recent Supreme Court ruling that prohibits the use of government savings without congressional approval.

“Again, I will make sure that the budget will be compliant with the decision of the Court. And we will not pass a law that is not compliant with it,” Escudero. With Macon Ramos-Araneta

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