Malacañang on Saturday disputed claims that the government is rushing its proposed P3.002-trillion national budget for 2016.
In a radio interview, Palace deputy spokesman Abigail Valte said the proposed budget underwent grueling scrutiny at the House of Representatives.
“Medyo matagal na rin ho nilang pinag-uusapan ‘yung ating budget at marami na ho tayong sumalang sa committee hearings pa lang po diyan sa budget [They talked about our budget for quite sometime and many of us underwent committee hearings on that budget],” Valte told government-run dzRB radio.
“At talagang, ano po ‘yan, parang [And it is really] to those of us in the executive that’s also considered another thesis defense—to face our fellows in Congress to be able to defend your agency’s or your office’s budget,” she added.
Before midnight Friday , 230 members of the House of Representatives voted for the budget, while 20 voted against. This happened 11 days after the bill was presented for plenary deliberations last September 28.
Valte said the budget proposal will then be submitted to the Senate where it would also be scrutinized.
“Hindi pa ho tapos ang pagtingin sa budget natin—mayroon pa ho ‘yan, siyempre, sa Senado [The scrutiny on our budget is not yet done. It has to go under the Senate],” she said.
Meanwhile, Valte thanked the House of Representatives for passing the proposed budget.
“Nagpapasalamat po tayo doon sa ating mga kasamahan sa Kamara de Representantes, siyempre, led by Speaker Sonny Belmonte at doon po sa pagbabaston ‘nung paggalaw po ng mga deliberasyon sa budget diyan [We thank out colleagues at the House of Representative, of course, led by Speaker Sonny Belmonte, and for directing the progress of the budget’s deliberation there],” she said.
Riddled with ‘pork’
House Deputy Minority Floorleader Neri Colmenares criticized the budget saying it is riddled with “pork barrel” as he referred to P573 billion in lump sums spread in various allocations.
The social services sector got the lion’s share of the budget with P1.1 trillion which will be spent for the K-to-12 basic education program which adds two more years in high school, socialized housing, universal health care, and the Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program, among others.
Economic services got the second largest allocation with P829 billion which is 17.3 percent higher than last year’s allotment. The P829 billion will be broken down to investments in transport infrastructure, agriculture development, tourism development, and the revitalization of the manufacturing sector.
Coming in third is the P517 billion budget for General Public services which includes expenditures for general administration, fiscal management, foreign affairs, and lawmaking, as well as public order and safety.
The defense budget also breached the billion mark at P129 billion which is 4.3 percent of the proposed P3 trillion national budget. The allocation will be spent on increased investments in the modernization of the Armed Forces.
Colmenares said the Palace clearly schemed to make its way out of the Supreme Court ruling outlawing pork barrel by allocating huge lump sum allocations to various agencies when lump sums should only be limited to calamity fund, contingency fund and intelligence fund of the Armed Forces of the Philippines and the Philippine National Police.
“The administration is perpetuating pork barrel in the budget. They lied when they said that lump sums are limited to calamity fund or other emergencies. The DPWH has a P6 billion lump sum for a feasibility study and other drainage projects and road networks that are not related to typhoons or disaster response. In fact, the calamity fund is only P22 billion,” Colmenares said, referring to Department of Public Works and Highways.
Each member of the House of Representatives and the Senate used to have a guaranteed P70 million and P200 million, respectively, discretionary fund every year identified as Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF). The lawmakers are authorized to allocate these amounts on the needs of their respective constituents.
The Supreme Court, however, ruled PDAF illegal in November 2013 after the expose on the P10 billion PDAF or pork barrel scam wherein lawmakers allegedly skimmed off PDAF money straight to their pockets thru ghost projects and bogus nongovernment organizations owned by Janet Napoles.
“Malacañang is obviously skirting the Supreme Court ruling on pork barrel. They can’t justify this by arguing that lump sums are for calamity fund because they can’t even release the fund for Yolanda victims. These lump sums are pork barrel and campaign fund for 2016,” Colmenares, a lawyer, argued.
“Where will these lump sums go? Napakadelikado nito. Hindi ito itemized kaya baka mawaldas o makurakot ito (This is very dangerous. These are not itemized and could be easily stolen). We need to have them itemized so the COA can easily scrutinize it,” Colmenares added, referring to Commission on Audit.