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Editorial

Beyond control

/ 09:25 PM September 15, 2011

The President gets billions of pesos in discretionary funds under various guises, among them the Intelligence Fund, Calamity Fund and President’s Social Fund. Lawmakers routinely appropriate for themselves several billions more in pork-barrel allocations—P200 million for every senator yearly and P75 million for every congressman. Now everyone wants to have a piece of the action.

Vice President Jejomar Binay, whose job description gives him no weightier responsibility than to wait (and pray?) for the presidency to become vacant, has not only gotten for himself an office bigger and plushier than those of his predecessors. For this year alone (and certainly in the next few years), he is getting P200 million to spend virtually as he wishes, on top of the P185 million allocation for salaries and operating expenses of the Office of the Vice President.

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During the budget deliberations last year, Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile justified Binay’s pork barrel by saying the Vice President needed to hire advisers who would keep him informed and provide analyses on what is going on in the country, just in case. After all, Enrile said, the Vice President is “just a hair’s breadth (sic) away from the presidency.” Apparently it didn’t occur to Enrile that P200 million may be a wee bit too much to spend on consultants or that Binay himself may not be able to absorb P200 million worth of information and analyses in a single year. But it would surprise no one if Binay, who has already announced that he will be running for president in 2016, spends all that money in ways that would help propel him to the highest office.

Now it is the judiciary fighting to retain its version of the pork barrel. Under the proposed budget bill for 2012, Malacañang wants to put all allocations for unfilled positions in all branches of government under the Miscellaneous Personnel Benefits Fund. These allocations include P1.9 billion for the judiciary, P281.6 million for Congress, P122.8 million for the Civil Service Commission, P1.8 billion for the Commission on Audit, P162.3 million for the Commission on Elections, and P567.7 million for the Office of the Ombudsman. Under the new system, such allocations will be released only when the positions are actually filled.

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The Department of Budget and Management came up with the new system to stop the old practice of many government agencies, including these constitutional offices, of asking for the creation of many new positions, with the corresponding appropriations for salaries and other benefits, leaving the positions unfilled and then distributing the “savings” among their officials and employees as allowances, bonuses or financial assistance. The Department of Education, for instance, has been known to keep unfilled as many as 10,000 teaching positions and 5,000 administrative positions, despite the perennial shortage of teachers and staff. One extreme case of abuse was the giving of millions as “pabaon” to retiring military brass or “pasalubong” to newly promoted top officials of the Armed Forces, all drawn from funds for personal services that had been bloated by abnormally high troop ceilings declared in the annual budget of the Department of National Defense.

Nothing so brazen has been known to have happened in the judiciary, of course, but it has not been above juggling funds too. For instance, it used savings from the personal services fund to provide financial assistance to employees affected by “Ondoy” two years ago. Neither has it been transparent in declaring how similar savings were used in the past. Such sums may not have been stolen or squandered, but still they were used for purposes not specified or authorized by the appropriations act.

Enforcing this new system of control over the judiciary’s budget, however, is not going to be easy for the DBM. Judiciary officials and some powerful lawmakers are opposing it. Enrile, for one, has argued that making the judiciary run to the DBM to seek the release of funds for new hires would compromise the judiciary’s fiscal autonomy. Supreme Court Administrator Midas Marquez, on the other hand, has protested that holding on to the funds intended for unfilled positions, as the DBM wants to do, would have the effect of reducing the judiciary’s budget, another constitutional no-no. And that about settles the whole issue. If its spokesman sees it that way, the Supreme Court cannot be expected to see it differently.

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TAGS: budget, Editorial, fund allocations, Government, opinion, pork barrel
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