PROFESSOR Emeritus Leonor Magtolis Briones of the National College of Public Administration & Governance (NCPAG) of the University of the Philippines Diliman has served as former Presidential Adviser for Social Development with Cabinet rank and former National Treasurer of the Philippines. She writes a column in The Times. She is the chief convenor of Social Watch Philippines.
She has made a reasoned and scientific appeal to our honorable members of Congress to desist from passing the proposed General Appropriations Act without removing its flaws that will permanently injure our Republic.
Next Monday, October 20, the House will start deliberating on the proposed 2015 GAA. The lawmakers are under tremendous pressure from the Palace to pass it soonest, so the Senate too can approve it and the Bicameral Committee can make it ready for President Benigno S. Aquino to sign.
But if the GAA is passed hastily, as Malacañang wishes, billions will be wasted–and Congress will continue giving up its constitutionally vested “power of the purse.”
It will also allow the President to redefine “savings”–and the new definition will be retroactive– so that the crimes he and Budget Secretary Abad committed in creating the DAP and using DAP funds can be wiped out
The House passed the proposed 2015 GAA on second reading despite these most serious defects, which Prof. Emeritus Magtolis-Briones pointed out in her pleas to Congress under the Social Watch letterhead, in her briefings and in her Times column:
“First: Even as the 2015 National Budget will reach a staggering P2.6 trillion, the House was only able to scrutinize in detail 23 percent of the total amount. The General Appropriations Act is only P1.7 trillion. This is because P888 billion is automatically appropriated. Out of the proposed GAA’s P1.7 trillion, P382 billion is in lump sum appropriations and P120 billion is in unprogrammed funds. Considering that P761 billion is in personnel expenditures which Congress does not touch, it is left with P599 billion for detailed scrutiny. This is equivalent to 23 percent of the total P2.6 trillion national budget.
“Second: The lump sum appropriations were not examined in detail. A few intrepid congressman raised questions about stratospheric increases in miscellaneous personnel benefits fund to P118 billion; budgetary support to government corporations to P61 billion and assistance to local government units to P33 billion. These questions were not answered satisfactorily.The same thing happened to Unprogrammed funds.
“Third: Automatic appropriations amounting to P888 billion were glossed over. This account includes interest payments of P372.8 billion, P389.8 billion in internal revenue allotments for local governments, employees retirement and insurance premiums at P30.1 billion and P21.2billion for Malampaya fund expenditures and the motor vehicles users charge.
“Interest expense is rising even as the Bureau of the Treasury announced that it will go down in 2014 and 2015. Overstatement is possible.
“Fourth: The proposed GAA was submitted with over 100 pages of errata–an appalling and unacceptable precedent. Nonetheless it was approved docilely on second reading by the House.
“Fifth, and most dangerous: The Special Provisions in the proposed 2015 General Appropriation Act contain a redefinition of ‘savings’ which will make it possible for the President to declare savings at any time of the year. The new definition will be retroactive.
This provision will erase the historic decision of the Supreme Court on the Development Acceleration Program or DAP.
Congressmen who know the implications of these unresolved issues,along with civil society organizations , media and concerned citizens are hoping that the 2015 Budget will be substantially amended.”
Citizenry must act–but what to do?
What can the citizenry do to move the honorable members of the House to amend what has been passed on second reading–especially the provisions that will allow President Aquino to change the normal and rational definition of “savings.”
A People Power Revolt appears impossible. For the most powerful media of communications, the most popular media people in the broadcast and print media have decided to be silent about the abuses and injurious policies and activities of the Aquino Administration.
The Filipinos can only pray that the majority of our lawmakers regain their sense of patriotism and ethical values.