Last Tuesday, some media outfits reported that the 2014 budget is already approved. What was actually approved is the Bicameral Conference Committee or Bicam version of the budget which totals P2.264 trillion. The Bicam is composed of the Appropriations Committee chair and selected congressmen on the one hand, and the Senate Finance Committee chair and selected senators on the other hand. Their task is to reconcile their respective versions of the General Appropriations Bill.
To repeat, the Bicam version of the 2014 budget still has to be approved by the President. He can either do a line-item or a partial veto where particular items are vetoed, or a total veto where he rejects the proposed budget in toto. Former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo introduced the conditional veto, which has not been done by previous president, as well as the present Chief Executive.
Thus far, there are already four versions of the 2014 budget: the original budget proposed by the executive, the House version as proposed by Congress; the Senate version as proposed by the Senate; and the Bicam version as proposed by the Bicameral Conference Committee. The version which will be finally signed by the President will be the fifth version of the 2014 national budget.
During the launch last Monday of the International Anti-Corruption Day initiated by the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism, I was asked to comment on the decision of the Bicameral Conference Committee to open their meeting to the public, particularly civil society organizations.
I answered then that if the invitation is only for the final meeting, what the public will observe will only be the “culmination” of at least two weeks of intense bargaining, negotiating and compromising among the individual members and between the House and Senate teams. The traditional practice is for both groups to meet in a “neutral” place to reconcile their differing budget versions. During the Macapagal-Arroyo administration, the practice was changed. Instead of meeting as a group and coming to a group decision, congressmen and senators were asked to meet individually with their respective Chairman. The two Chairmen would then meet and reconcile the different amendments requested by individual members. Technically the Committee did not meet as a group during the previous administration.
I further stated that the real hard bargaining will not be done publicly, and will not be for “public consumption.” What the public will see and hear will be the result of such negotiations, I said. They will not know the details and the context of the items agreed upon by the two houses.
Are the lumps truly gone?
In the light of the Supreme Court decision striking down congressional pork barrel, can it be said that the lump sums have been deleted or expunged from the budget?
Based on the figures which have come been released to the public, one can say that the lump sums are still around, although in other locations and other forms. Only P3.2 billion can probably be considered as deleted from the budget. This is composed of the PDAF of 16 senators. Interestingly, it is also reported that the Vice-President had his PDAF deleted. However, the P3.2 billion covers only the 16 senators at P200 million each.
Consider just a few of the lumps: P20 billion for Rehabilitation and Reconstruction Program; P5.5 billion to increase the Calamity Fund, now renamed NDRRM Fund, to P13 billion, Quick Response Funds to DOH (P500 million) and DOTC (P1 billion), P200 million allotted to Resettlement Program and P100 million for Housing Assistance Program under NHA and P206.62 million for MMDA for disaster risk mitigation.
The Unprogrammed Fund is a clear lump sum at P139 billion. The Reconstruction and Rehabilitation Fund is allotted P80 billion from this lump sum. What is interesting to note is that expenditures from this Fund will be subject to the approval of the President.
This is only a partial listing. Abangan ang susunod na kabanata!
Ensuring accountability for lumps
It is obvious that media and civil society have a lot of work to do to ensure accountability for the manifold lumps which have sprouted in response to Yolanda’s destructive visit to the Philippines, as well as to the Supreme Court decision striking down congressional pork.
The first thing is to inform and explain to the public that the lumps are still around. True, PDAF was cut down by the Supreme Court, but this constitutes only 1% of the total expenditure program. The lumps managed by the Executive remain. The second thing is to monitor how these lumps are spent and to demand from the Executive details of the different programs. The third thing is to continue the campaign to abolish all lumps, wherever they are located.