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Aquino signs pork-tainted budgetAquino signs pork-tainted budget

Publication Date : 21-12-2013

 

Philippine President Benigno Aquino III on Friday signed the 2.265-trillion pesos (US$50.99 billion) General Appropriations Act (GAA) for 2014, a figure lower by 3.2 billion pesos than what he had proposed in July.

The difference resulted from the president’s decision to delete the allocation for the graft-tainted Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) following the public uproar over the alleged massive and systematic misuse of the pork barrel system through the years.

The Inquirer, however, learned from Senator Juan Edgardo Angara and Marikina Rep. Miro Quimbo, who were present at the signing ceremony in Malacañang, that the 3.2 billion pesos represented only the PDAF allocation of senators.

According to Angara, 15 senators gave up their 200-million pesos PDAF, while the Vice President Jejomar Binay scrapped his 200-million pesos share in the arrangement.

Thus, the PDAF has not been abolished altogether.

“Most of the 25.2 billion pesos originally allocated for it has now been rechanneled to the regular programs and projects of agencies, most especially the needed response to recent disasters,” said a briefer of the 2014 national budget prepared by the Department of Budget and Management (DBM).

“Pork is very much alive and oinking in the 2014 budget. This is true for congressional pork, which has survived in itemized form as well as through various lump-sum insertions in agency budgets in direct violation of the recent Supreme Court decision,” said Act Teachers Representative Antonio Tinio.

Kabataan Representative Terry Ridon said only the PDAF term had been removed but not the pork embedded in the budget.

“Pork remains in the presidential discretionary funds, agency discretionary funds like the Department of Agriculture’s farm-to-market roads and in the proposed public work projects submitted by legislators during the budget deliberations,” Ridon said.

While the 15 senators and the Vice President had agreed to give up their pork allocations— the other lawmakers in the two chambers would have an active hand where their equivalent pork allocation would go in next year’s budget.

Representatives, each allotted 70 million pesos in pork funds annually, were asked to propose projects strictly within their districts and were given a cap of up to five infrastructure projects each.

Aquino keeps his pork

But more than the congressional pork, Tinio said the “presidential pork” was not only kept intact but was augmented by additional calamity funds.

“All in all, around 1 trillion pesos of the 2.26-trillion pesos budget is presidential pork, lump-sum funds the use of which is left solely at the discretion of the President. In other words, Congress has practically abdicated its check and balance role on nearly half of the national budget for 2014,” Tinio said.

Gabriela Representative Emmie de Jesus said: “By pork in the budget, it means lump-sum and discretionary funds. As it is, the president has billions of lump-sum funds that he can use for patronage politics.”

Navotas Representative Tobias Tiangco said the 2014 budget would enable the President to have a firmer hold on Congress.

“The president now holds Congress by the nose. The executive branch can still give pork to their allies in Congress from the presidential pork through the DAP or Disbursement Acceleration Program. The president can just juggle the funds whatever way he wants,” Tiangco said.

The newly minted budget is 258.7 billion pesos higher than the current year’s budget. It includes 113 billion pesos for rehabilitation and reconstruction of areas devastated by Supertyphoon “Yolanda” and other calamities, broken down as follows: 13-billion pesos calamity fund (up from the current 7.5 billion pesos), 20-billion pesos rehabilitation reconstruction program and P80 billion for reconstruction projects under the Unprogrammed Fund.

The calamity fund has been renamed National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Fund.

Performance-based

Budget Secretary Florencio Abad said the early signing of the 2014 GAA was consistent with the administration’s tradition of enacting the national budget on time, “effectively setting next year’s expenditure program in motion and instituting a range of public spending reforms that will bring greater efficiency, transparency, accountability and openness in the budget process.”

He said the 2014 GAA was also the country’s first “Performance-Informed Budget,” a reform initiative that ties an agency’s overall budget to specific standards of performance and service delivery.

“As pioneered by the Aquino administration, the 2014 Performance-Informed Budget draws very clear connections between an agency’s budget and its expected output,” he said. “With these details so explicitly laid out in next year’s GAA, the public can begin to demand greater accountability and efficiency from our agencies. It’s a reform path that can only lead to deeper citizen engagement and improved public service.”

According to the DBM, social services continue to corner the biggest share of next year’s budget, receiving 841.8 billion pesos (37.2 per cent) of the total. This includes budgetary support to the administration’s ongoing conditional cash transfer programme (62.6 billion pesos), the construction and repair of public school classrooms (44.6 billion pesos) and the National Health Insurance Programme (35.3 billion pesos).\

Economic services will also receive ample budgetary support, with 593.1 billion pesos (26.2 per cent). This includes a 94.3-billion pesos allocation for paving national roads, 10.7 billion pesos for technical support services that will benefit the country’s farmers and 5.5 billion pesos for tourism promotion.

The debt burden and general public services corner 16.7 per cent (377.6 billion pesos) and 16 per cent (362.6 billion pesos) of the budget, respectively. Next is defense that will get a 4-per cent cut, with a budget amounting to 89.5 billion pesos.

Top 10 allocations

By agency allocation, education got the lion’s share of the budget (309.43 billion pesos) followed by public works and highways (219.91 billion pesos), interior and local government (136.14 pesos), national defence (123.19 billion pesos), health (90.77 billion pesos), social welfare and development (83.40 billion pesos), agriculture (80.03 billion pesos), transportation and communications (48.89 billion pesos), environment and natural resources (23.92 billion pesos) and agrarian reform (20.38 billion pesos).

In his remarks during the signing, Aquino noted that “tragedy after tragedy” beset the nation this year—the violence in Zamboanga City, the earthquake in Bohol, the damage wrought by Yolanda, among other calamities.

“All of these, together, tested our capabilities and resolve. They not only tested our resilience as a nation, but also the capacity of the government to respond to the needs of its citizens: from rescuing lives, to rehabilitation and helping affected communities get back on their own two feet,” he said.

“To all those who thought we would back down in the face of smear campaigns and efforts to sow doubt among our people: You were wrong. Whether it was those who challenged our resolve to maintain peace and security in our communities; or those who desperately tried to steal from our nation’s coffers; or even those who heartlessly took advantage of the tragedies that struck us to advance their own political agenda—not one of them succeeded.

“Instead, we remained focused on serving our countrymen loyally and efficiently. We lifted up those affected by tragedy; and we held to account those who turned their backs on the nation,” the president said.

*US$1 = 44.49 pesos

 

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