• Iskul Bukol: all about lumps in the 2014 budget

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    For the longest time, people did not have an interest in the national budget. Except for students, researchers and civil society organizations the budget was a tedious document which was better left to the experts, the bureaucrats and the politicians. While not necessarily accepted, abuses in pork barrel were cynically tolerated.

    Not anymore! Since 2006, civil society organizations like Social Watch Philippines have been monitoring the budget and calling attention to abuses in lump sum appropriations, including pork barrel. The Napoles scam has blown the lid off pork barrel scams and triggered public demands for transparency and accountability in the finances of government.

    To respond to increasing interest in the national budget, Social Watch Philippines launched a series of public fora in cooperation with citizens groups and civic groups. This year, the focus is on the 2014 budget.

    The theme of the series of fora is: ISKUL BUKOL: THE 2014 BUDGET AND THE 2015 PROPOSED BUDGET. Why “Iskul Bukol”? While it is an obvious take off from a TV comedy sitcom, the content is serious. It is a step-by-step briefing on the lump sums or “bukols” in the 2014 budget, as well as the 2015 proposed budget.

    So far, four “iskul bukols” have been conducted since February 21 in different places, with different audiences. The first forum was held in the Assembly Hall of the UP National College of Public Administration and Governance, with students, members of mass organizations and professional groups attending. It was initiated by Social Watch Philippines. There were two reactors: Peachy Tan of Scrap Pork Movement, and Greco Antonius Belgica of Reform Ph Movement.

    The second forum was held last February 26 in Salazar Hall, Ang Bahay ng Alumni, at UP Diliman. The forum was organized by the UP Alumni Association with UP alumni in attendance, as well as graduate students interested in public finance. A lively question and answer session with UP alumni raising relevant issues.

    The third forum was held at Malcolm Hall, UP College of Law. It was sponsored by Abolish Pork Movement, UP Faculty Versus Pork and Socialwatch Philippines. Aside from myself, two other presentors gave presentations detailing where all the pork was hidden. Cong. Antonio Tino of “Act Teachers” walked the audience through the list of agencies were PDAF had “migrated.” He displayed a form without letterhead which congressmen were asked to fill out and specify their pork requirements for 2015. Renato Reyes, Secretary General of BAYAN presented a detailed listing of projects funded by the Development Acceleration Program.

    The constitutionality of DAP is the subject of petitions before the Supreme Court.

    The fourth forum was very interesting in that the audience was composed of members of student councils all over the country. This took place last March 8, 2014 at the National Congress of College Councils held at the College of Mass Communications, UP Diliman. It was a great experience to face an audience of articulate and serious student leaders from all over the country, all the way from Ilocos Norte, down to Muslim Mindanao.

    The participants were particularly interested in the budgets for state colleges and universities. I pointed out that Ph35 billion is allocated for over a hundred SUCS. PH9.3 billion of this will go to the University of the Philippines while the balance will be shared with other SUCs. The university wit the lowest appropriation is the Adiong Memorial Polytechnic State University with a budget of Ph24.5 million. This SUC is located in ARMM.

    How does the 2014 budget look like?
    The national expenditure program is like a huge gift box which the President presents to the Filipino people each December. No less than the President himself announced that our national expenditure program has reached the staggering amount of P2.264 trillion for 2014.

    However, when this huge expenditure box is opened, the public will see that there are two boxes inside. One box contains P1.4 trillion. This is the General Appropriations Act which both houses of Congress passed last December. The other box contains the Automatic Appropriations which total P796 billion. Thus, it must be emphasized that what Congress approves in the GAA is less than two-thirds of total expenditures.

    When the box containing the P1.4 trillion General Appropriations Act is opened, lo and behold, there are two more boxes! One box totalling P1.18 trillion is composed of the agency budgets. This is the box the public is most familiar with, because it contains the budgets of agencies like DEPed, DPWH, DILG, DOF, DOH and the entire alphabet soup of department agencies.

    The other box in the GAA is the Special Purpose Funds of P282.5 billion. Ahah! This is what the public and the press describe as presidential pork and what I refer to as “lump sum appropriations.” These are funds for which there is no available detail, unlike the budgets of agencies and departments. These can only be released with the approval of the President.

    What are the big ticket items which are in the Special Purpose Funds? One is budgetary support to government corporations with P46 billion. Another is allocation to local government units with P19.5 billion. Then we have the huge Miscellaneous Personnel Benefits Fund of P53.5 billion which is utilized for salary increases. Furthermore there is P120.4 billion for pension and gratuity.

    Is there something for victims of calamities? Well, the National Disaster Risk Reduction Management Fund has been increased to P13 billion. There is also the Rehabilitation and Reconstruction Program for P20 billion.

    All of the above funds can only be released with the approval of the President. Watch out for our next column when we discuss issues which have been raised about specific items in the Special Purpose Funds. Watch out too for a breakdown of the automatic appropriations fund, as well as the unprogrammed funds!

    Yes, the national program of expenditures is like a huge, huge box. Opening it can only lead to more boxes with smaller contents. Some boxes are transparent. Others aren’t.

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    1 Comment

    1. These movements and campaigns should keep on pushing for more public vigilance in addressing the issues we have in public finance. As important as budget reform, a reformation of public understanding makes a difference in the life span of this movement. It can be just hype or actual change. It’s hard to sell the idea of public finance to the layman because it seems like a whole lot of technical information that we neither have time to grasp nor have any obvious incentive to do so. We complain about our taxes but understanding the budget becomes a whole different issue altogether. If this government is really about transparency, it should create the avenues where the public becomes involved and informed about the budget process.