THE Department of Justice (DOJ) and the judiciary got the lion’s share of the P100-billion off-budget account (OBA) funds in 2013, government records show.
The OBA–which does not require Congressional approval–reached P100 billion at the end of 2013 or almost double the 2012 budget of P52 billion, based on the Budget of Expenditures and Sources of Financing for the Fiscal Year of 2015, a copy of which was released last week during the House budget briefing of the Development Budget Coordinating Committee (DBCC) on the proposed P2.606-trillion budget for 2015.
The DOJ got a heftier share of the OBA–P60 billion–from a miniscule P172 million at the end of 2012. The judiciary, on the other hand, got P9 billion or P1 billion higher than its 2012 off-budget account of P8 billion.
The Justice department’s P60 billion OBA was sourced from one percent of the net income of the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp. (Pagcor), one percent of the proceeds, sales and other sale of property and rental income.
The judiciary got its OBA from legal fees, court fees, fiduciary fund, bail bonds, legal research, trust receipts and miscellaneous income.
The Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) and Department of Energy (DOE) each got P5 billion, followed by the Department of Transportation and Communications, P4 billion, Department of Health, P2.8 billion, Department of Public Works and Highways, P2.3 billion, Department of Education, P1.58 billion, Department of National Defense, P1.5 billion and Department of Labor and Employment, P1.4 billion.
The Department of Science and Technology and Department of Trade and Industry are tied in 10th place with P1 billion each.
The Department of Social Welfare and Development scooped P654 million.
Executive offices that got OBA are the Commission on Higher Education, Film Development Council of the Philippines, Governance Commission for the GOCCs, National Commission for Culture and the Arts, Pasig River Rehabilitation Commission, Philippine Racing Commission and Philippine Sports Commission.
The Commission on Audit got P487 million, Department of Foreign Affairs, P397 million, Finance department, P340 million, National Economic and Development Authority, P325 million, Department of Agriculture, P271 million, Tourism department, P230 million, Financial Assistance to Metro Manila Development Authority, P125 million and Presidential Communication Operations Office, P104 million.
Only the Department of Environment and Natural Resources and Department of Budget and Management had off-budget accounts worth less than P100 million with P49 million and P1.67 million, respectively.
The Civil Service Commission was the only government agency with zero OBA.
Sen. Francis Escudero, chairman of the Senate finance committee said OBA funds may even reach P500 billion but he clarified that the funds are not left unchecked.
According to Escudero, besides the known off-budget items such as the remittances from Pagcor, Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office (PCSO), Motor Vehicles Users’ Charge (MVUC) and Malampaya Funds, there are other public funds that do not require the approval of Congress or those that are automatically appropriated.
Among the big-ticket off-budget items are the debt services and the Internal Revenue Allotment (IRA) for local government units that amount to billions of pesos but do not pass through Congress.
“Interest payment alone is about P350 billion, IRA is about P300 billion. These are all off-budget items and are automatically appropriated but are subject to audit by COA [Commission on Audit],” Escudero said.
He noted that there is nothing wrong with this scheme because the set-up was allowed by the Supreme Court (SC) and the Constitutional Commission.
Escudero explained that the court made it that way to ensure the debt payments and the IRA allocation will not be affected in case there is conflict in Congress.
“Imagine what will happen if IRA needs to pass through Congress and a member of Congress has a problem with a governor, the lawmaker can reduce the amount of IRA allotted to them or even stop its release,” hesaid.
The senator, however, noted that although these funds do not pass through Congress, the government submits a report annually in relation to the off-budget allocations.
The revenues of Pagcor and PCSO, Escudero said, are also off-budget accounts that do not need Congress’ approval but the two state-run institutions are required to submit their reports to the Governance Commission for GOCCs (GCG), which in turn submits a report to Congress.
GCG acts as a central advisory, monitoring and oversight body with authority to formulate, implement and coordinate policies governing government-owned and -controlled corporations.
“The reason why PCSO and Pagcor don’t pass through Congress is that they don’t ask funding from Congress. In fact, they are providing funds for the government,” Escudero pointed out.
But even with the billions of pesos in off-budget items allotted to various government agencies, the senator sees no need to introduce additional means to further monitor the use of funds since COA and the existing system are enough to ensure regularity.
“We are ready to investigate in case we see an anomaly in the use of the off-budget funds but right now the regular submission of reports regarding the fund use to Congress is sufficient,” Escudero said.