‘Pork-laden’ budget graft prone — solons

Militants warn but House okays bill on 2nd reading

The House of Representatives has approved on second reading the P2.606-trillion national budget for 2015 which the opposition described as ‘pork-laden, corruption-prone national budget.’

In a viva voce voting, congressmen passed House Bill 4968 or the 2015 General Appropriations Act after six weeks of deliberations at the committee level, and two weeks in the plenary.

Speaker Feliciano Belmonte, Jr. said the House will assert its oversight function as to how every centavo of the national budget will be spent.“We are resolved to have a strong oversight committee to look into the budget,” Belmonte said Friday night before the House went on a three-week break.

The proposed budget is 15 percent or P341 billion more than the 2014 budget of P2.265 trillion and contains “variations” of the Disbursement Acceleration Program which the Supreme Court has outlawed for being unconstitutional.

Kabataan party-list Rep. Terry Ridon said the new savings provision of the 2015 budget “essentially legalizes the DAP.”

Questionable items, he said, include the Grassroots Participatory Budgeting, the fatter Conditional Cash Transfer Program, the P1.4 billion ‘black’ budget, and the essentially untouched lump-sum funds.

House Majority Leader and Mandaluyong Rep. Neptali Gonzales II said the House will form a small committee that will handle and consolidate individual amendments to be proposed by the 290 House members.

The 2015 national budget bill is expected to be approved when Congress resumes session on October 20.  It will then be submitted to the Senate for both chambers of Congress to work on proposed amendments and reconcile their versions of the budget measures during the bicameral conference committee.

Opposition lawmakers questioned the total P 620,913 billion lump-sum appropriations at the discretion of the President.

“For days on end, the Makabayan bloc exposed every nook and cranny of the budget, and found many black holes, quasars, and nebulas of corruption-prone provisions and appropriations,” Ridon said. “When the majority said yes to the budget, they said yes to an expanded Aquino dictatorship,” said Ridon, member of the House opposition-allied Makabayan Bloc.

Ridon dismissed the House’s vote for the approval on second reading of the 2015 national budget was not a vote for a people’s budget.

“Congress voted for the expansion of President Aquino’s fiscal dictatorship….The Filipino people has once again been shortchanged, all to feed the ruling administration’s greed for pork and patronage,” Ridon said.

Bayan Muna party-list Rep. Neri Colmenares said the lump-sum funds or pork barrel that was spread all over the budget include:  budgetary support to GOCCs at P61.3 billion; assistance to LGU, P33.1 billion; risk management program, P30 billion; support for infrastructure projects and social programs, P20 billion; unprogrammed funds, P123 billion; bulk of miscellenaous personnel benefit fund, P118 billion; grassroots participatory budgetting, P20.9 billion; Pamana program, P7.3 billion.

Similarly, Colmenares said a huge government funds have been kept at the discretion of the President, such as: the P148-billion Malampaya funds; P21.1-billion special accounts; and P29.5-billion off budget accounts, including the Motor Vehicle Users’ Charge and the President’s Social Fund from the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation and the Motor Vehicles Users’ Charge.

Colmenares also criticized the new definition of savings in the 2015 GAA, which he said would allow the President to “abuse the huge power to stop and realign budget approved by Congress.”

Under the Palace-proposed 2015 GAA, Colmenares said, Section 67 already redefined savings to refer to “portions or balances of any programmed appropriations in this Act which have not been released or obligated as a result of any of the following: (a)     Discontinuance or abandonment of the program, activity or project (P/A/P) for justifiable causes, at any time during the validity of the appropriations;

(b)          Non-commencement of the P/A/P for which the appropriations is authorized within the first semester of FY 2015, unless the implementing agency shows that the P/A/P may still be undertaken or accomplished in FY 2015. For this purpose, non-commencement shall refer to the inability of the agency or its duly authorized procurement agent to obligate an allotment within the first semester of FY 2015; or

(c)           Decreased cost resulting from improved efficiency during the implementation or after the completion by agencies of their P/A/Ps to deliver the targets and services approved in this Act.

“Savings may likewise refer to available balances of appropriations arising from unused compensation and related costs pertaining to: (i) unfilled, vacant or abolished positions; (ii) non-entitlement to allowance and benefits; and (iii) leaves of absence without pay.

The 2015 budget measure also contains the increased government allocation for the Aquino government’s dole-out program dubbed as the Conditional Cash Transfer (CCT), with P64.7 billion funding.   From 2011 to 2014, allocations to CCT increased by 70 percent or P13 billion every year.

Meanwhile, the top 10 agencies that  gets the bulk of the budget are: Departments of Education, P365.1 billion; Public Works and Highways, P300.5 billion; Department of National Defense, P144.0 billion; Department of Interior and Local Government, P141.4 billion; Department of Social Welfare and Development, P109 billion;  Department of Health, P102.2 billion; Department of Agriculture, P88.8 billion; Department of Transportation and Communication, P59.4 billion; Department of Environment and Natural Resources, P21.3 billion; and Judiciary, P20.28 billion.

Meanwhile, Belmonte, Jr. lauded and thanked the House leaders and its members for their efforts and contributions to have the approval of the proposed 2015 national budget achieved on time.

Belmonte said the House has once again proved that it can rise to the challenge of crafting a budget law and shepherding its approval on second reading within the period lawmakers collectively set to accomplish it.

“This brings us closer to ensuring the enactment of the 2015 budget law before the end of the current fiscal year so that the dangers of a re-enacted budget will not deprive our people of the services they need,” Belmonte said in his sine die adjournment speech.

Belmonte said House members have, as one body, suffered greatly in the bar of public opinion in the past months - with the issue of pork barrel scandal. But today, he said they have shown they are public servants first and last.

“And that is what counts. In this spirit, I convey my deepest gratitude to all of you for bringing this House to this hour of pride. To each and every member of this House, my deepest appreciation,” Belmonte said.

He described the budget deliberations, both in committee and in plenary this year, as “exceedingly spirited and incisive.”

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