SPECIAL REPORT: “To claim so much savings while borrowing hundreds of billions is terribly wrong.” Bayan Muna Rep. Neri Colmenares
By MARYA SALAMAT
MANILA – Unfazed by the Supreme Court decision against the Disbursement Acceleration Program, President Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III and Budget Secretary Butch Abad seem “at it again,” warned Kabataan Partylist Rep. Terry Ridon last weekend after he saw the 2015 proposed budget of the Aquino administration.
The proposed 2015 national budget is P2.606 trillion ($59.60 B), bigger by P341 billion (7.80 B) than last year’s approved P2.265 trillion ($51.80 B). It shows marked increases for agencies that have served as conduits of legislators’ pork.
In President Aquino’s proposed 2015 budget, the biggest increases went to the Department of Public Work and Highways, which increased by P100 billion ($2.3 B), the Department of Social Welfare and Development by P27 billion ($617 M), the Technical Education and Skills Authority by P300 million ($6.9 M), Department of Education by P83 billion ($1.9 B), and Department of Health P18 billion ($411.6 M).
More anticipated “savings”
According to the 2015 National Expenditure Program (NEP) submitted to Congress last Wednesday, July 30, the Aquino government expects that some P251.78 billion ($5.76 B) of the P2.26 trillion ($51.80 B) national budget for the current year will not be spent. This means that although 2014 is far from over, the Aquino administration has already estimated that the national government may retain some P251.78 billion ($5.76 B) in “savings” this year, Kabataan Partylist Rep. Ridon said.
[Click this link to view portion of 2015 NEP tackled here.]
“The DBM’s P251.78 billion ($5.76 B) estimated savings for 2014 is greater than the actual amount spent for the 116 projects under the Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP). With such huge savings targeted by the national government, the re-emergence of DAP or another DAP-like mechanism in the near future will likely occur,” Kabataan Party-list Rep. Terry Ridon warned.
There also appears to be “savings” from 2013 that are yet unaccounted for. The DAP as one way of spending these savings was stopped by the Aquino administration in 2013 after protests broke out.
“The Executive branch must clearly disclose where these unused funds went. Did they tap the P203.4 billion ($4.652 B) unused 2013 appropriations for DAP? We are talking about billions of pesos here – a marginal note in the NEP is not enough,” Ridon said.
In another statement, Kabataan’s Ridon gave an update on the Grassroots Participatory Budgeting (GPB), previously called ‘bottom up budgeting’, a mechanism which has been branded as a “DAP clone” or DAP junior, and an “LP (Liberal Party) campaign kitty.”
The GPB gets a 4.5 percent increase or close to P1 billion ($22.9 M) more in the proposed budget for next year. The total proposed GPB budget as submitted by the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) for 2015 is pegged at P20.9 billion ($478 M).
(See this link for detailed list of 2015 GPB projects.)
This P20.9 billion ($478 M) budget for LGU projects is on top of the P2.9-billion ($66 M plus) Local Government Support Fund included in the P501-billion ($11.46 B) “Special Purpose Funds” for 2015.
Special Purpose Funds are a group of lump sum allocations or pork barrel funds largely under the discretion of the president.
The GPB was earlier criticized by Kabataan Partylist Rep. Terry Ridon for being “highly vulnerable to corruption” and containing a “DAP-like” provision that enables local government officials to cancel and replace projects already indicated in the annual General Appropriations Act (GAA).
Majority of the GPB-funded projects listed in the 2015 National Expenditure Program (NEP) are for “core local road construction, maintenance, or rehabilitation” and road concreting. There are also other projects, including irrigation and sitio electrification. There are projects worth P500,000 to P1.5 million ($11,435 to $ 34,304) simply listed as “various road projects,” “various LGU projects, or simply “various projects.”
There are projects – like those in Cabuyao, Laguna, Alabat, Quezon and Malvar, Batangas – that are simply listed as “to be identified.”
“The Aquino administration cannot hide the fact that the 2015 GPB-funded projects are meant to boost the LP’s election bid,” Ridon said. He asked how Congress will be able to scrutinize allocations for projects that are yet world are ‘to be identified.’
Malacañang denied it but it did not reply to these specific points against its proposed budget.
While the Aquino administration is declaring hundreds of billions of “savings” in the national budget every year — and has recently even asked its allies in Congress to define “savings” to allow him to impound funds from ‘slow-moving’ projects, classify these as “savings” and use these according to their discretion – its budget proposal forecasts nearly the same amount of budget deficit and asks permission to borrow from local and international creditors to meet it.
“To claim so much savings while borrowing hundreds of billions is terribly wrong ,” said Bayan Muna Rep. Neri Colmenares in a statement. He assailed the Aquino administration’s plan to borrow money to offset the P283.7 billion ($6.5 B) budget deficit of its recently submitted P2.6 trillion ($51.80 B) 2015 budget.
“This (P283.7 billion or $6.5 B) is a very huge amount and it would further mire us in debt. As we learned from experience, the Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP) was at least P144 billion ($3.3 B), which the Aquino government said were funds that the agencies were not able to spend and should be called savings. But if that is so, then why do we have to borrow money and pay interest?” asked Colmenares.
Abad said the total “savings” from the time Aquino became president till 2013 amounted to P237 billion ($5.4 B plus), of which they proposed to spend P167 billion ($3.82 B) under DAP, but released only P144 billion ($3.3 B),
Colmenares said the allocation of scarce resources must be efficient. He criticized the Aquino administration’s kind of budgeting where, through various mechanisms, budget of various line agencies get bloated by pork.
“This is very absurd and we oppose this kind of budgeting especially if it is accompanied by a budget deficit which will be funded by more loans. The Aquino government said we have lots of savings, yet we will take a loan?” added Colmenares.
People’s Initiative against pork
Meanwhile, the People’s Initiative Against the Pork Barrel (PIAP), a national coalition of various anti-pork groups and individuals, opposed President Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III’s proposed new definition of ‘savings’ as well as the lump sum appropriations in his 2015 national budget.
At a press conference at the St. Scholastica College in Manila Aug. 2, the group PIAP laid the following bases for its opposition to the redefinition of savings by President Aquino:
1. The expanded definition of savings under the 2015 National Expenditure Program (NEP) Section 67, circumvents the Supreme Court decision on the unconstitutionality of acts and practices under the Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP).
2. It defeats the Constitutional power of Congress to appropriate.
3. It will be a mechanism to create a huge pork barrel.
The group said it also opposes the reported P501 billion lump sum under the Special Purpose Fund (SPF) and other ‘lump sums’ in the 2015 budget.
“This strengthens our resolve to hold the August 23, 2014 People’s Congress on the People’s Initiative for the Act Abolishing the Pork Barrel,” said the group.
Present at the press conference were Sr. Mary John Mananzan, OSB (Abolish Pork Movement); Msgr. Romualdo Kintanar (Cebu Coalition Against the Pork Barrel); Mae Paner (Scrap Pork Network); Dr. Carol Pagaduan Araullo (Abolish Pork Movement and Bayan); Rep. Neri Colmenares (Makabayan).