Palace: We are accountable

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MALACAÑANG has claimed accountability for any possible misuse of government funds even as it assured the public that it is “wary and concerned” about the revelations made by former Sen. Panfilo Lacson on the supposed lump sum appropriations in the 2015 budget amounting to P 424 billion.

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In a text message to The Manila Times, Presidential Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr. said they are not surprised with Lacson’s disclosure, noting that the former Presidential Adviser on Relief and Rehabilitation is a known anti-pork crusader.

“Given his track record of being a crusader against pork barrel, it is not surprising that Sen. Lacson is wary and concerned about the possible misuse of lump sum appropriations. The Administration is holding itself accountable in terms of ensuring that public spending is fully justified, compliant with the law, and could pass public scrutiny,” Coloma stressed.

In a speech delivered recently before the Philippine Institute of Certified Public Accountants (PICPA), Lacson claimed that he, along with a team that he had organized, had been scrutinizing the 2015 General Appropriations Act and they were shocked to find out what was supposed to be a new system for authorizing and tightly monitoring budget releases called the Unified Accounts Code Structure (UACS).

The system is used to convert itemized accounts into “lumpsum” accounts, whose utilization would be at the discretion of every department secretary.

By being lump sum in nature, these funds which are reminiscent of the controversial Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP) are controlled by the administration insofar as to where and how they should be spent.

Critics claimed that these appropriations can be taken as discretionary funds that President Benigno Aquino 3rd and his Cabinet could easily tap to beef up the ruling party’s campaign kitty for 2016.

But in a separate text message to the Times, Palace spokesman Edwin Lacierda said the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) has clarified the issues raised by Lacson.

“The DBM already issued a press release on the matter and is willing to explain the budget to former Sec. Lacson,” Lacierda said.

When asked if Aquino was indeed “stunned” and “livid” over Lacson’s apparent “falling out” with the administration, the Palace official replied: “Ha ha!”

Times columnist and former Ambassador Rigoberto Tiglao wrote in his column published on Wednesday that Aquino “blew his top” because of his erstwhile ally’s tirades against the government.

It was Aquino who appointed Lacson as rehabilitation czar in the aftermath of Super Typhoon Yolanda. Lacson vacated the post earlier this year.

Lacierda echoed the Budget department’s claims that Lacson’s report was inaccurate, stressing that the supposed “lump sum” appropriations are nowhere to be found in the 2015 budget law.

“Mr. Lacson’s doomsday assertions on lump sums and the supposed resurrection of DAP under the 2015 budget are inaccurate. A careful reading of the National Budget would prove that quickly enough. While the General Appropriations Act (GAA) may appear complex, it will very clearly show two things: that the supposed DAP provisions are not in the GAA, and that there are fewer lump sums in the Administration’s spending plan this year. As a matter of fact, 87 percent of the Special Purpose Funds under the 2015 Budget has already been disaggregated,” the DBM explained.

“Meanwhile, you will note that all remaining lumpsum items are funds whose specific purposes are impossible to determine in the planning process. For example: we cannot foretell where disasters will strike or what the extent of the potential damage might be, so the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Fund is necessarily a lump-sum,” it added.

In its press statement, the DBM suggested that Lacson should reach out to them to straighten out any misgivings about the budget.

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