OKAY, the call to stop the corrupt use of taxpayers’ money by removing lump sum appropriations in the multi-trillion-peso 2015 budget was probably an impossible dream—a “suntok sa buwan” (throwing a punch at the moon) as the vivid Tagalog expression says. After all, the direct beneficiaries of the pork are the lawmakers themselves, the guys who are passing the law.
But, one would have thought that the matter of redefining “savings” as desired by President BS Aquino and Budget Secretary Florencio Abad was a challenge to the higher levels of our lawmakers’ consciences.
Until last Wednesday, we and other Filipinos who still hoped the senators and representatives who make up the powerful Congressional Bicameral Conference Committee would rise to that exalted level of patriotism and statesmanship that would make them reject the redefinition demanded by the President and his Budget secretary. Alas, the honorable members of the Bicam proved to be as lacking in heroic virtues as the most corrupt of the congressmen.
They have virtually institutionalized corruption in handling the national budget.
Social Watch Philippines (SWP) Lead Convenor Prof. Emeritus Leonor Magtolis Briones (a Manila Times columnist), issued a statement pointing out that, after her organization thoroughly analyzed the 2015 Budget Law that came out of the Bicam, they find that the redefinition of “savings” desired by Malacañang is still in the law through a rewording.
SWP/Prof Briones statement
“The Executive can still declare ‘savings’ to be able for him to use as he likes.Although the phrase ‘at any time’ has been removed from the House of Representatives’ General Appropriations Bill (GAB), it was replaced with a re-wording in Sec. 68 (a) of the meaning of savings in the Bicam version as “portions or balances released… which have not been obligated… during the validity of the appropriations.”
“Sec. 68. Meaning of Savings. Savings refer to portions or balances of any released appropriations in this [General Appropriations] act which have not been obligated as a result of any of the following:
(a) FINAL discontinuance or abandonment of an on-going program, activity or project (P/A/P) by the head of the agency concerned due to causes not attributable to the fault or negligence of the said agency which would not render it possible for the agency to implement the said P/A/P during the validity of the appropriations.”
“Since the appropriations are valid from day one of next year until it ends, the intention to declare savings any time of the year is still present.
“The declaration of savings on a non-definite time-frame provided the mechanism for the Disbursement Acceleration Program and the redefinition effectively eliminates the Congress’ vaunted ‘Power of the Purse.’
“This leeway would give DAP ‘legitimacy,’ despite the Supreme Court ruling on its unconstitutionality. This touches issues on the balance of power between the Executive and the Legislative, since portions of the DAP were essentially pork-barrel for Legislators; not much different from the likewise SC declared unconstitutional Priority Development Acceleration Fund (PDAF). The Bicam-passed 2015 Budget cannot reasonably be said to be ‘pork-less’ or ‘DAP-less.
“The General Appropriations Act, in essence, becomes a superfluous law because such redefinitions would give the Executive the capability to realign it according to P/A/P’s it deems ‘worthy,’ regardless of appropriations already written in the 2015 GAA. The surrender of Congress to the Executive profoundly affects the balance of powers among the branches of government, where the budget is made politically vulnerable due to the lack of transparency and accountability.
“There is not much of an improvement in the amendment that savings can only be acquired from ‘released’ appropriations/allotments (Sec. 68). The very fact that released appropriations/allotments can be declared savings still at any time of the year makes the provision susceptible to realignment by the Executive.
“There are also no clear restrictions as to when the Executive may be allowed to withdraw unobligated allotments from the agencies. The qualifier ‘causes not attributable to the fault or negligence of agency’ (Sec 68.a) is likewise vague. It is similar to the original provision in the GAB allowing savings for ‘justifiable causes.
“The Bicam also did not touch the Department of Budget and Management’s ‘errata’, erroneously considered as budget ‘amendments’ and were hence restored in the Bicam-approved 2015 Budget Bill.”
Call on citizens: Express dissent
Prof. Briones’ statement ends with this serious call to Filipinos:
“The lack of balance of powers among the three branches of government and the political machinations in the 2015 Budget are salient issues for the Filipino people as it affects how the nation proceeds into governance as a functional democracy. Social Watch Philippines therefore challenges citizens to express dissent over the pork and DAP-laden 2015 Budget, and hold the Executive and Legislative accountable for not acting in accordance with the people’s interests.”