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Let facts speak for themselves

To the many sins (of commission and omission) attributed to the Sandiganbayan (SB), I add another one:  partiality in the dispensation of justice. Senators Bong Revilla and Jinggoy Estrada are detained in the PNP Custodial Center in Camp Crame, in cells measuring roughly 31 square meters, with private bath. Yet the SB is content to send Lucila “Gigi” Reyes to Camp Bagong Diwa in Taguig to a cell, a “dormitory” she shares with nine other women who are supposed members of the New People’s Army.

Is it because the two are senators, and she is or was a mere Senate employee? The three are charged with plunder, but there are more charges against the two senators. So why the difference in treatment?  SB Presiding Justice Amparo Cabotaje-Tang reportedly expressed surprise that Reyes had a panic attack in Bagong Diwa, because she had no such attack while she was detained in the Sandiganbayan basement for five days.  That adds yet another sin to the SB list: lack of brain matter.

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If Revilla was reportedly feeling discomfort in his PNP quarters, what do you think the two senators would feel if they were detained in the same quarters with nine or ten other people accused of different crimes?   Panic attacks galore.

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Then there is the call for Budget Secretary Butch Abad to resign, or for President P-Noy to fire him.  That shows absolute ignorance, or, to put it more kindly, no short-term memory, on the part of those behind the call.

First, they must have forgotten what the budget process was like under P-Noy’s predecessor: There were the scam involving the Priority Development Assistance Fund, particularly of 2007-2009, under that regime; the congressional insertions—another form of dispensing pork; the budget reenactments, which totally destroyed any relationship between the budget and the country’s declared development goals; and then the complete distortion of the Malampaya Fund, which, although earmarked for energy-related projects, could also be used for “such other purposes” as the president directed (it was found that only 1 percent of the Fund releases were energy-related).

The new administration did away with all those, although some less enthusiastically than the others. Even before the Supreme Court decision, the PDAF was abolished, and even while the case was going on, there already were changes to narrow down the latitude of the legislators.  The expenditures on Malampaya were directed toward energy projects. And, of course, there has been no reenacted budget under Mr. Aquino.

Second, they must not have any idea of the other budget reforms undertaken. Nor have they looked at the Department of Budget and Management website, to see how transparent the process has become. If they don’t understand the concepts or the process, all they have to do is go to that website, where everything is explained.

I remember that after the first year of the Aquino administration, I, as part of the Movement for Good Governance, gave the administration full marks for the DBM’s move for greater participation in the budget process: “[The DBM] has drafted, with civil society organizations, principles of ‘constructive engagement,’ and early this year formally called citizen groups to participate in the 2012 budget preparations—an unprecedented process.”

You will see in the DBM website the actions taken to render the budget process more efficient, effective, and accountable. For example, the DBM has adopted a new budgeting regime: the GAA-as-release document (no more Saros, or special release allotment orders, needed)—meaning to say, if it is in the General Appropriations Act, the funds are automatically released—which aside from speed, makes for more transparency, although the GAA is now published in three volumes, instead of only one.

There are many others, but I will mention performance-informed budgeting that aims to strengthen the culture of meritocracy in the bureaucracy, as well as strengthen the institutional checks and balances that rightly govern the budget—Congress can better scrutinize the budget, and so can the public.  Then there is the grassroots participatory budgeting process, giving local communities and the civil society organizations serving them greater power: In the 2013 budget, 595 poorest cities and municipalities participated, and P8.4 billion went toward their locally developed programs and projects.  In 2014, 1,226 cities and municipalities participated, resulting in P20.1 billion in local programs and projects.

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Shouldn’t all these efforts at transparency, inclusivity, checks and balances be recognized? Yet some sectors are calling for Abad’s dismissal. My only response: They are either grossly misinformed, or have malicious intentions (having to do with the 2016 elections).

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Now for the DAP (Disbursement Acceleration Program).  Visit the DBM website and look it up. Here’s my take:  The Supreme Court praised it for having achieved what it set out to do.  However, the Court said that some of the actions taken were unconstitutional—and then got all involved in “operative fact,” which I take to mean that if the expenditures were made and the projects were completed, they should not be reversed (but of course!). And then the Court said that the people responsible for the DAP could be held liable, depending on the evidence. Not should, not would, but could.

Well, let the facts speak for themselves. The DAP was an answer to a felt need (there was underspending).   When the need was reduced, the expenditures were reduced: P75 billion for the last three months of 2011, P53.2 billion for all of 2012, and P16.0 billion for 2013.  And then it stopped.  Does that look like pork barrel? Please.

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TAGS: budget, dap, Florencio “Butch” Abad, Get Real, gigi reyes, Jose “Jinggoy” Estrada, Juan Ponce Enrile, opinion, pork barrel scam, Ramon “Bong” Revilla, Sandiganbayan, Solita Collas-Monsod
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