BUDGET Secretary Florencio “Butch” Abad, mastermind of the Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP) and this government’s devious definition of savings from which could be drawn funds for its discretionary spending, should face charges for withholding the Internal Revenue Allotment (IRA) during the last election year. The Commission on Audit (COA) reported earlier that in 2013, the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) failed to release P302.8 billion automatically to local governments, violating a provision of the 1987 Constitution.
The Commission alleged that the deparment headed by Sec. Abad violated Section 6, Article X, General Provisions of the Constitution: “Local government units shall have a just share, as determined by law, in the national taxes which shall be automatically released to them.”
Sec. Abad disputes the audit findings. “We do not withhold these appropriations and they have always been released without condition or delay,” he said in a press statement. “All agency transactions between the DBM and LGUs in 2013 have been properly documented.”
The Commission’s report also carried the Budget department’s response, saying that its management and release of the IRA was legal under Executive Order 292. The department explained it needed to manage the IRA “… to segregate the funds intended for LGUs with that of the funds for its regular operations.”
The Commission disagreed with the Budget department’s position, and so do we. According to the audit report, the Constitution mandates the automatic release of the local governments’ share of taxes collected. And in our view, the Constitution trumps all other laws, including Executive Orders.
The fact that the funds were withheld during the 2013 elections buttresses the need for an investigation of the department and its secretary. Only the naive would dismiss the possibility that the delay in disbursement was a political ploy to control incumbent officials at the local levels during the elections.
Looking ahead, the Budget department should be clear whether or not its process now complies with the Commission on Audit. The Aquino government should eliminate suspicions that LGU funds will be manipulated to favor its candidates in the next elections.
Local government units are vulnerable. For municipalities, the IRA accounts for nearly 90 percent of their total revenues. And even though cities can raise some of their own funds, they still need the IRA for about 50 percent to 70 percent of their revenue.
If control of the LGUs is the intent, then one of the likely beneficiaries is no other than their supposed champion – the secretary of the Interior and Local Government, Mar Roxas of the Liberal Party. Remember that Sec. Abad was the Liberals’ campaign manager in the 2010, and he stayed on as senior party leader. Their problem is that Sec. Roxas has the smallest of chances to win as President of the Republic, if the surveys are to be believed. To us, the silence of Sec. Roxas on the IRA issue offers clues as to why he remains so undersirable in the surveys.
Without funding, local governments are unable to provide basic services to the people. That makes us wonder why local officials need to beg the national government for their rightful share of the taxes. Cannot local governments remit only the national government’s share and retain the rest?
Sec. Abad, along with his department, has many questions to answer and issues to clarify. Unless he does so in the soonest time possible, he should be compelled to explain himself in court.