‘Secret poll funds’

Ex-Treasury head: Hiked budget items could be used for elections

PRESIDENT Benigno Aquino III has two lump sum budgets that can be used for the election campaign next year, former national treasurer Leonor Magtolis Briones warned  Thursday.

At the Kapihan sa Serye forum, Briones said the President has increased the lump sum Special Purpose Funds from P368.72 billion for this year to P430.43 billion next year without details.

“That’s P368.72 billion and P430.43 billion all under the sole discretion of the President. Only the President can release the amount and can decide where the money would go,” she said.

Highlighting the importance of local governments in elections, the President also increased the budget allocation to local government units from P33.47 billion this year to P56.52 billion for 2016, Briones said.

Clearly, the national spending plans for 2015 (P2.608 trillion) and 2016 (P3.002 trillion) were designed as “election budgets,” she added.

These revelations came as former senator Panfilo Lacson said he would challenge the insertion of pork barrel in the 2015 budget before the  Supreme Court, while Kabataan party-list Rep. Terry Ridon questioned the realignment of P323.6 billion in the 2014 national budget.

At the Kapihan sa Serye, former Quezon Rep. Danilo Suarez and former Anakpawis Rep. Rafael Mariano noted that during elections, government resources and machinery are usually coursed through LGUs, which can be counted upon to deliver 20 percent of the votes.

The former lawmakers also hit the government’s Conditional Cash Transfer program that doled government funds to 4.5 million recipients, saying these were being used for political patronage.

Under the automatic appropriations that are not subject to scrutiny by Congress, Briones said, the Internal Revenue Allotment of LGUs was also increased from P372.86 billion this year to P428.61 billion next year.

“There is no doubt about it. The 2015 budget is an election budget. The 2016 that was increased by 15.2 percent is also an election budget. The President should have been more transparent and made sure that details of where this money will go should have been disclosed,” Briones said.

She said the billions in taxpayers’ money that would go to allocations to LGUs but are not told why these allocations have increased.

“There was no explanation why the allocation to LGUs had been increased. Is it because the LGUs became poorer?” she said. “Whatever happened to the previous allocations? Did it not improve the standing of the LGUs?”

“For as long as there is no breakdown as to where the allocations under SPF would go, and which LGUs were recipients, no one but the President and the Department of Budget and Management would know. And that’s where the government’s transparency and accountability are put to question,” Briones added.

She said the budget for infrastructure, supplies and communications had also been increased.

“What are these supplies? Of course these come in paper, tarpaulins, packed lunches, cell phones and pens used for the campaign,” Briones said. “And all the procurement has begun this year.”

The Department of the Interior and Local Government headed by the presumptive Liberal Party standard bearer in 2016, Secretary Manuel Roxas II, saw its budget rise from P100 billion in 2014, to P108 billion in 2015 to P124 billion in 2016, Briones said.

The Public Works budget has been increased from P206 billion in 2014 to P219 billion in 2015 and to P378 billion in 2016.

The Department of Education was allocated P281 billion in 2014, P321 billion in 2015 and P411 billion in 2016.

“Tell us if the P100-billion increase for DepEd is not election-related,” Briones said.

Also on Thursday, Lacson said he would challenge the 2015 budget before the Supreme Court, saying that pork barrel that had been ruled unconstitutional was still present in the national spending plan.

“Whether the identification of the projects was made before or after the approval of the 2015 budget, legislators have no business identifying projects,” Lacson said.

He said legislators who identified projects for the Budget Department would be named in the petition, since their names are on the documents that will be used to prove that pork barrel—officially known as Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF)--still exists.

“We have sufficient evidence that PDAF has been resurrected in the national budget, at least in the 2015,” he said.

Revelations that billions in public funds from PDAF and the Aquino administration’s Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP) ended up in several non-government organizations used by politicians as clearinghouses for kickbacks sparked public outrage.

Three opposition senators—Ramon Revilla Jr., Jinggoy Estrada and Juan Ponce Enrile—have been detained on plunder charges related to PDAF.

“I am willing to spearhead the move to go to the Supreme Court,” Lacson said at a forum  Thursday. “The justices themselves are victimes here because their decision was circumvented.”

“We have up to next week to file a petition for prohibition before the Supreme Cout. We have sufficient evidence and we are still gathering more…PDAF was resurrected…pork barrel is very much alive and kicking,” Lacson said.

Based on his research and analysis on the budget, Lacson said, an estimated P424 billion can be considered as “lump sum appropriations” in the national budget.

He said pork was present in at least four departments: Agriculture, Public Works, Health and Social Welfare and Development.

At the Agriculture Department alone, at least P6.25 billion can be classified as pork barrel, he said.

Lacson said several members of the House of Representatives could be held liable with the supposed insertion of pork barrel into the budget in apparent violation of the Supreme Court ruling.

Ridon, meanwhile, said the administration realigned P323.6 billion in the 2014 budget, citing data from the 2016 National Expenditure Program.

In page 951 of the recently-released NEP, it is shown that the Aquino administration pooled P90.4 billion from various departments and agencies and P233.2 billion from the Special Purpose Funds and subsequently transferred these funds to several agencies and SPFs, Ridon said.

The Budget Department submitted to Congress last Wednesday the proposed P3-trillion General Appropriations Act (GAA) of 2016.

“A specter is haunting the national budget – the specter of the Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP). Even if the government supposedly discontinued DAP in 2013, the President and the executive department were still able to tinker with hundreds of billions of public funds, transferring them from the original object of expenditure in the Congress-approved budget to another. This is basically usurpation of the congressional power of the purse,” Ridon said.

“While the NEP does not reveal details on the realignment of funds, a document uploaded in the DBM website does,” he said.

Ridon said that certain budgetary transfers are suspicious, such as the transfer of P9.6 billion from the Department of Agriculture to the Department of Public Works and Highways for the construction of “farm-to-market roads” and the transfer of P1.1 billion to the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao from the budget of various government agencies.

Ridon pointed out that funds from several SPFs were also transferred to other SPFs, including a P2.6 billion transfer from the Miscellaneous Personnel Benefits Fund to the National Disaster Risk Reduction Management Fund.

“On paper, the transfers seem to be innocuous and ordinary. But what we want to point out is that the President and the executive agencies under him are realigning billions of public funds with little to no public scrutiny. Maximum discretion is at play, reducing the congressional approval of the budget to nothing but a mere ceremonial gesture,” Ridon said.

The legislator said the P323.6 billion realigned by the Aquino administration is over 14 times bigger than the P22.5 billion supplemental budget for 2014 approved by Congress.

“What’s the use of having a line-item budget when the executive department can just tinker with the funds at will after enactment? Such fund transfers are highly vulnerable to corruption. The vestiges of the pork barrel system may even be hiding between those lines of budget transfers,” Ridon said.

In response, the Budget Department said the transfers under the 2014 budget were legitimate and open to public scrutiny.

The DBM also said that fund realignments and transfers of appropriation are different, where realignments involve the reallocation, modification, or change of details within an existing program, activity, or project.

The DBM also said transfers of appropriation take place when an authorized agency transfers specific appropriations to another agency for the implementation of programs, activities, or projects.

“Representative Ridon’s claims on 2014 fund realignments are very misleading. First, he mistakes transfers of appropriation for fund realignments, and second, he incorrectly alleges irregularity where there was none. We ask our public officials to be responsible in interpreting budget information so that we don’t misinform the public,” the budget agency said in an official statement. – With Francisco Tuyay and Sandy Araneta

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