WITH its tag of P3 trillion being the biggest in our national history, and given national elections scheduled for next year, it is imperative that the 2016 budget proposal of President Benigno Aquino 3rd is subjected to the most thorough and rigorous review that Congress can muster.
Filipinos must have also learned about the many tricks that Budget Secretary Florencio Abad employs to distort, evade and manipulate the wishes of Congress in the annual General Appropriations Act, so that it has also become a matter of national interest and survival that this budget proposal is cleansed of pork, Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP), discretionary allocations, and illegal outlays, like funding the creation of a substate, and the electioneering of public officials in next year’s balloting.
It’s a choice between the eye of the needle and the congressional railroad for this P3 trillion budget. We say eye-of-the-needle is best for the sake of people and country.
The fact that this budget is going to be the last under President Aquino and the last that Butch Abad will personally manage should not lull budget watchers and legislators into lowering their guard.
“Fiscal space” sounds alarm bells
Abad said that the proposed budget has fiscal space amounting to P580.9 billion, which will be allocated to new programs or projects and the expansion of existing projects for 2016. This is double the fiscal space in the 2015 National Budget of P287.3 billion.
Fiscal space is flexibility in the use of the allotted funds. This sounds alarm bells that public funds could be used for electioneering.
Corrective to underspending
The 2016 budget is bloated in size because of the Aquino Administration’s misguided policy of underspending, which dates back to its first year in office in 2011. Alarmed by the dramatic drop in GDP growth in the first quarter of 2015, the Administration is now like a student cramming for an examination. It now strives in the 2016 budget to spend as much as it can on public investment in infrastructure and public services.
Public spending under this budget will increase to 19.5 percent of the gross domestic product (GDP), from 18.7 percent in 2015 and 16.4 percent in 2010.
Budget for election spending
Given its majority control of both houses of Congress, the Liberal Party is likely to seek more access to public funds as 2016 campaign money.
One party-list Congressman contends that the 2016 budget was crafted and designed by Butch Abad to specifically favor and support DILG Secretary Manuel Roxas’ bid for the Presidency. As the presumptive LP presidential bet, Roxas has started using the bottom-up-budgeting (BUB) appropriations of the 2015 current budget to promote himself among local government units (LGUs.)
It is ominous that President Aquino will not require his LP partymates and Cabinet members to resign after filing their certificates of candidacy in October this year. This gives them more time to use up the 2015 budget to promote themselves and fiddle with the 2016 budget before the 90-day campaign period starts.
It is also significant that this 2016 budget has essentially “legalized” the “savings scheme” of the DAP, taking advantage of a congressional resolution that redefined savings. This could enable President Aquino and his allies to divert more public money to their election war chest.
Grill Abad on mistreatment of LGUS
To begin the review of the budget, Congress will summon Secretary Abad, other members of the Development Budget Coordinating Council (DBCC) and the heads of departments to defend the budget in whole and in part. Abad must also answer for holding up the funds for local government units (LGUs) in previous years. The Commission on Audit has reported that under Aquino and Abad, P302.8 billion of the share of LGUs in the internal revenue allotment for 2013 had been frozen and placed under Fund 103, which is controlled by the LP.
Under the Local Government Code (LGC), the money should be released by the Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR) to the LGUs directly and automatically.
Worse, P581 billion of the people’s money has been sequestered by the Aquino Administration and declared as savings that Malacañang can use at its discretion.
This is not small change. This is money in the billions. And their misuse has the potential to distort the 2016 elections and thwart the will of the people.
As was said long ago, so it remains true today. Vigilance is the price that we must pay for liberty and democracy.