Pork barrel still alive in 2015 budget
One would think that after the pork barrel scandal and the prosecution of some of those who got fat on it, no pork would be left in the Aquino administration’s 2015 budget. Wrong. Not only is it still in the P2.6-trillion budget for next year, it has also been increased. And also like the earlier pork funds, it is disguised as something else. Collectively, we can call it “errata,” another invention of Budget Secretary Florencio Abad, who also invented the Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP), parts of which have been outlawed by the Supreme Court.
Where would you find a budget that took one year to prepare, that has 269 pages of “errors,” and that was passed on second reading by the House of Representatives? Only in the Philippines, thanks to the resourcefulness and imagination of Secretary Abad. We have never had a budget secretary like him before—or will have ever after, we hope.
The new Abad budget also slyly redefines the meaning of “savings.” With the redefinition, the President can declare “savings” in the budget of any agency at any time of the year—in fact, even at the beginning of the year. Simply by not implementing a project, the budget for that project can be declared “savings” and used for purposes not intended by the General Appropriations Act (GAA) passed by Congress. With this trick, the executive branch steals the “power of the purse” from Congress.
Prof. Leonor Briones, a former national treasurer, studied the 2015 budget and found out that: First, the House was able to scrutinize in detail only 23 percent of the total amount of P2.6 trillion. The GAA, she said, is only P1.7 trillion. This is because P888 billion is automatically appropriated. Out of the proposed P1.7-trillion GAA, P382 billion is in lump-sum appropriations and P120 billion is in “unprogrammed funds.” Since P761 billion is for personal expenditures which Congress does not touch, it is left with only P599 billion for detailed scrutiny. This is equivalent to 23 percent of the total P2.6-trillion budget.
Second, the lump-sum appropriations were not examined in detail. Lump-sum appropriations are like pork barrel funds; they can be spent by the Chief Executive any way he wants. A few congressmen questioned the “stratospheric” increases in miscellaneous personnel benefits to P118 billion, in budgetary support to government corporations to P61 billion, and in assistance to local government units to P33 billion. These questions as well as those on “unprogrammed funds” were not answered satisfactorily, said Briones.
Third, automatic appropriations amounting to P888 billion were glossed over. This amount includes P372.8 billion in interest payments, P389.8 billion in internal revenue allotments for LGUs, P30.1 billion in retirement and insurance premiums for employees, and P21.2 billion for Malampaya Fund expenditures and the motor vehicle users charge.
Interest expense is rising even as the Bureau of Treasury announced that it would drop in 2014 and 2015, Briones said.
Fourth, the proposed GAA was submitted with 269 pages of “errata”—an appalling and unacceptable precedent. Nonetheless, it was passed by the House.
Fifth, and most dangerous: The special provisions of the GAA contain a redefinition of “savings” that will make it possible for the President to declare savings at any time of the year. The new definition will be retroactive. This will erase the historic decision of the Supreme Court on the DAP, said Briones.
Why is the administration doing this, in spite of its battle cry of treading the “straight path”? Because the 2015 budget is an election budget.
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The competition among fraternities of the University of the Philippines has graduated from mere rumbles to a fight for the presidency of the Philippines. Reacting to a news report that the Alpha Phi Omega (APO) fraternity is supporting Vice President Jejomar Binay (who is among its members) in the 2016 presidential election, the rival Tau Gamma Phi (TGP) fraternity, regarded as the country’s biggest fraternity, announced that it was mobilizing its millions of members nationwide—“Triskelions” are what they’re called—to “help the Aquino government fight graft and corruption,” which is its way of saying that it would campaign against Binay who is up to his neck in corruption allegations.
“We have to make a definite and moral stand,” a TGP national leader said at one of its meetings. “Along with our countrymen, Triskelions will surely suffer from uncontrolled graft as well as reprisal from a Binay administration.”
The two frats have been big rivals since they were established decades ago. The TGP recently passed a resolution “to solidify Triskelions’ condemnation of any kind of corruption, using influence to enrich oneself while in government like what some of our leaders are doing.”
The TGP was established by UP students on Oct. 4, 1968. At present, it is the biggest and most cohesive fraternity in the Philippines and boasts of more than a million members nationwide.
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