FORMER national treasurer Leonor Briones and budget watchdog Social Watch Philippines on Thursday challenged all the presidential bets to make public their stand on the P3.002-trillion national budget for 2016 that still contains pork barrel funds and illegal DAP-like features.
Briones, also SWP convener, said the presidential bets should state their position on President Benigno Aquino III’s tactic of snatching from the House its “power of the purse.”
Only Vice President Jejomar Binay, the standard bearer of the opposition United Nationalist Alliance, has openly denounced the pork barrel and lump sum-filled national budget.
“All of us are taxpayers and the people’s money affects everyone. One area of intervention is to affirm the importance of the budget as an election issue,” Briones said.
“We should choose leaders based on platforms on the budget and public finance which pursue sustainable development, uphold the Constitution and maintain the balance of power in the government.
“We urge the presidential candidates to divulge their stand on the 2016 budget, pork barrel and lump sums.”
Briones made her statement even as Budget Secretary Florencio Abad hailed Congress’ approval of next year’s P3.002-trillion budget.
“We are happy to hear of Congress’ ratification of the P3.002-trillion 2016 National Budget, capping as it does the DBM’s hard work in crafting a national budget that will create greater inclusive growth,” Abad said in a statement.
“More importantly, this budget will be the final one created under the Aquino administration, and one that is vastly different from the budgets that were created before President Aquino’s term.”
The national budget will now be transmitted to Aquino for his approval and signature into law before Christmas.
“With the budget bill up for approval into law, it is important to recognize that its impact will essentially be passed on to the next administration,” Briones said.
“In the context of the 2016 elections, citizens should challenge those vying for elective positions to disclose their stance on the 2016 budget, including the crucial issues and concerns that come with it.”
Briones noted the Conference Committee Report Summary indicated budgetary increases to the agency budgets amounting to P11.295 billion and Special Purpose Funds or SPFs with P7.791 billion.
She said the major amendments included P1.2 billion for the pension of indigent senior citizens under the Department of Social Welfare and Development, P2.7 billion for the capital outlay of state universities and colleges and the Tulong Dunong Program, P4.004 billion for the disability pension of veterans, and P7.442 billion for the financing of the first tranche of the modified Salary Standardization Law, among other amendments, which the bicameral committee integrated in the 2016 General Appropriations Bill or GAB.
“The modifications were sourced from the budgetary reductions from within agency budgets (P7.33 billion) and SPF (P19.08 billion); there were also realignments from within the unprogrammed funds (P6 billion) to cover Additional Equity Distribution,” Briones said.
She said the amended amounts approved by the Bicam were as follows: P1.663 trillion for the departments and agencies (from P1.651 trillion) and P408.288 billion for the SPF (from P419.583 billion).
The total new appropriations remain at P2.139 trillion while the automatic appropriation of P930.695 billion was untouched.
“While amendments and realignments have been done to the budgets of some agencies, SPF and unprogrammed funds, it is painful to note that the Bicam did not examine the more critical issues that will have an impact on the overall budget,” Briones said.
“The body merely retained the erroneous provisions on the definition of savings, augmentation and realignment of funds as proposed in the Bicam-approved 2016 Budget.”
As a result, Briones said, whatever amendments that had been passed by both Houses could easily be withdrawn by the Executive.
“Unconstitutional declaration of savings and transfers will continue,” Briones said.
In its analysis, the SWP found the following red flags on the authority and conditions to create and use savings, as well as on the meaning of augmentation and realignment of funds as reflected in General Provisions Sections 64-68 of the 2016 General Appropriations Bill (HB 6132) and supporting special provisions in key agencies:
“In Section 65a, we argue that the qualifier stating that savings can be declared “during the validity of appropriations” means at any time of the year. This means that the 2016 Budget will continue to authorize the declaration of savings by January or any other time of the year since the General Appropriations Act is deemed released, in accordance with the GAA-as-release document directive,” the SWP said.
Moreover, it said, it was unclear whether or not the finality in the discontinuance or abandonment of projects meant such discontinued or abandoned project would be included in the succeeding GAAs.
“This is because the qualifier to discontinuance and abandonment does not clarify the extent of finality of such actions,” SWP said.
“In Section 65a/b, we contend that the provision allowing savings due to “causes not attributable to the fault or negligence of the agency” is vulnerable, vague and highly discretionary parameter and needs further guidelines.”
SWP said Section 65d provision allowed “savings” even during procurement phase (difference between the approved budget for contract and the contract award price).
“There is no savings in this case since the project has not even started,” SWP said.
It said the special provision stating that the heads of the Senate and House of Representatives Electoral Tribunals were authorized to use savings was questionable because they were not included in the list of authorized officers in the Constitution and the GAA.
“We maintain that the inclusion of “unforseen modifications or adjustments and re-assessment” provisions results into a flawed meaning of augmentation in Section 66a&b,” the group said.