‘Ayuda’ not a waste of money
Let’s assume for the sake of argument that Finance Secretary Benjamin Diokno is correct in describing financial assistance for impoverished Filipinos who were severely affected by the COVID-19 pandemic as “a waste of public funds.”
Assume for the moment that the head of the Marcos Jr. administration’s economic team is correct in describing the country’s situation as having “fully recovered” from the worst gross domestic product contraction since the end of World War II.
Let us assume further that the Philippines has “limited fiscal space” after having engorged itself with debt during the previous administration, both to fund an infrastructure buildup program, as well as to embark on an emergency spending program at the height of the global public health crisis.
Finally, let’s assume that it is a good idea to limit the granting of financial assistance only to those Filipinos who already have their national IDs.
Here’s the problem with these assumptions: they have weak legs and cannot stand up independently to well-reasoned counterarguments.
Take for instance the national budget. Almost every year since he became a lawmaker, former senator Panfilo Lacson has made it part of his advocacy to point out surreptitious pork barrel insertions that are either unnecessary or prone to graft and corruption. After his retirement, Lacson’s mantle has been passed on to Sen. Ralph Recto, who recently pointed out that as much as P588 billion of the proposed government budget for next year as unprogrammed appropriations, which he described as “gray areas.”
Should those funds be lost to graft and corruption—and the government’s track record in this regard does not leave much room for optimism—that will be the classic definition of “a waste of public funds.”
Another more appropriate example of a waste of public funds—more appropriate than describing “ayuda” to the poor as such—is the P2.4-billion deal of the Department of Education for 40,000 laptops for school teachers to be used as tools for distance learning. The laptops turned out, unsurprisingly, to have outdated specifications and are worth only a fraction of that price tag if bought off the shelf. That, having supposedly been transacted by a controversial unit of the Department of Budget and Management (DBM), is the classic definition of “a waste of public funds.”
More examples? How about the more than P11-billion anomalous contracts for COVID-related medical supplies bagged by Pharmally Pharmaceuticals Corp., again under the auspices of the DBM?How about the kilometer upon kilometer of perfectly good concrete roads in various urban and rural areas nationwide that were ripped up and recemented—concrete “reblocking,” they call it—and, in the process of giving menial jobs to contractual laborers, lined the pockets of contractors? That is the definition of a waste of public funds.
Of course, it also bears pointing out that financial assistance to even the most irresponsible of recipients is not wasted when viewed within the framework of helping the Philippine economy regain its footing.
Even if, hypothetically, the recipient would spend it on nothing more than booze and other vices, note that the previous administration hiked the tax levies from so-called sin products. Whatever a person spends on alcohol, tobacco, or other unnecessary luxuries finds its way back to the coffers of the state in the form of substantial tax revenues, while the rest helps oil the wheels of the economy, spurring production and creating more jobs.
But more realistically, this financial aid is spent on more basic needs like food, clothing, shelter, and utility bills—all of which yield taxes for the government and benefits for the growth of the economy.
Finally, Secretary Diokno and the rest of our public servants, both in high government office, as well as those working closer to the people they serve, would do well to remember that the time for condescending “straight talk” is inappropriate toward the people who pay for their salaries with their taxes.
We are in a new administration, and hopefully gone is the time when uncouth words and behavior toward Filipinos can be passed off as “telling it as it is.”
If nothing else, the people from whom this financial aid will be withheld deserve dignity.
No, Mr. Secretary. Helping the poorest of the poor hurdle the worst economic crisis in the country’s history—a pandemic that has pushed millions more below the poverty line—is not a waste of public funds.
Doing so is our collective moral and social obligation to those we have neglected for so long. It is—in the face of all the government waste and corruption we have seen in recent years—quite simply, the right thing to do.
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