SOCIAL Watch Philippines and Scrap Pork Network, budget watchdogs, urged the Senate on Tuesday to scrutinize and make the necessary amendments on lump sum appropriations, and the persistence of possible pork and DAP-like budgetary transfers that will have an impact on the overall budget.
“The 2017 Budget is still far from being the budget for real change that we expect from this administration, as lump sums and other contestable appropriations are still embedded in it,” SWP co-convenor Prof. Marivic Raquiza said in an SWP and SPN joint statement early this week.
Transmitted by the House of Representatives on Monday, House Bill 3408 or the FY 2017 General Appropriations Bill (GAB) is currently undergoing deliberations in the Senate plenary level, with period of amendments to be held this week.
SWP found a little more than PhP930 Billion is in automatic appropriations of the Total Expenditure Program of PhP3.350 Trillion. The Special Purpose Funds amount to PhP484.030 Billion and the Unprogrammed Funds total PhP67.5 Billion.
“These leave only 57% or PhP1.948 billion of agency budgets are discussed openly in public because automatic appropriations, unprogrammed funds, and SPFs not usually debated in great detail,” explained SWP fellow Prof. Jocelyn Cuaresma.
SPN campaigner Peachy Tan further said that lump sums indicate an inherent vulnerability in the budget because of limited transparency and accountability. These are also not as detailed and specific as the budget proposals of regular agencies. “Once these are approved, these are vulnerable to reductions, transfers, and ‘adjustments’, she added.
“The pork barrel issue may still be alive despite the Supreme Court ruling on the unconstitutionality of the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF)”, remarked anti-pork groups Social Watch Philippines and Scrap Pork Network.
The Department of Budget and Management (DBM) has earlier announced it would allow legislators to propose programs, activities and projects (PAPs) for their respective constituents, which many anti-pork groups question.
“The DBM’s announcement, in essence, may resurrect the practice of pork barrel politics. We further question how the legislators can examine the budget submitted by the Executive from an impartial and disinterested perspective, when their pet projects are embedded in the agency budgets” the groups stressed. This, they added, may constitute a conflict of interest.
SWP and SPN “call on citizens to be vigilant during the implementation of local projects identified by legislators for inclusion in the national budget during the preparation and legislation phases. We recognize the legislative’s power of the purse, but the insistence of some legislators to identify the beneficiaries for government programs is an indication that the pork barrel system is alive even as post-enactment intervention was rendered unconstitutional by the Supreme Court.”
The anti-pork groups support the lawmakers desire to provide benefits for their constituents. However, they believe that the most appropriate way for legislators to do this is by actively participating in the Local Development Councils (LDCs) that are mandated to formulate development plans and public investment programs, in accordance with Sections 107 and 108 of Republic Act 7160 or the Local Government Code.
“Identifying and solving the concerns of local people can best be addressed through the collective wisdom of local leaders, including civil society organizations, who are members of the LDCs, and of which the legislators in the House of Representatives are also members of,” the budget watchdogs said. “This way, the projects of legislators can better be rationalized within a development framework formulated by local leaders and local citizens’ groups, and which there can be consultations on with local citizens,” they said further.
It is widely reported that the agencies from which the PAPs will be drawn from are the following: Department of Health (DOH), Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD), Department of labor and Employment (DOLE), Technology Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA), Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH), and Commission on Higher Education (CHED).
Bringing up the issue on DAP-like budget transfers, Cuaresma commented that the provisions on augmentation and modification in allotment signify possible budgetary transfers. She also warned the return of the erroneous provisions on savings, as stipulated in General Provisions Sections 59a-d of the Third Reading.
“Before we know it, we may see the revival of the Disbursement Acceleration Program legitimized in the national budget,” she said.
SW and SPN have been asserting the important role of citizens in ensuring transparency and accountability in the budget.
“We encourage the people to continue to monitor the potential dangers and traps inherent in the 2017 budget bill,” Raquiza and Tan said.