By INA ALLECO R. SILVERIO
A progressive lawmaker in the House of Representatives continue to fight for a pro-poor 2012 national budget by submitting amendments.
Earlier this week, Alliance of Concerned Teachers (ACT) Representative Antonio L. Tinio submitted proposed amendments to House Bill 5023 or the General Appropriations Bill for Fiscal Year 2012 to the House Committee on Appropriations. His proposed amendments focused on the budgets of the Department of Education (DepEd), State Universities and Colleges (SUCs), Department of National Defense (DND), Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (OPAPP), and General Provisions.
When it came to the budget of the defense department,Tinio suggested tying the release of funds of military units to their human rights record.
“The national budget should also be used as a tool to promote respect for human rights and address the problem of impunity, particularly within the ranks of the military. This proposed amendment to the DND budget aims to ensure that all units of the military down to the smallest level will be effective partners in enforcing and respecting human rights,” he said.
The lawmaker said the ‘no impunity’ provision will make the budget a powerful tool in ensuring that AFP units respect human rights at all times in the discharge of their duties, especially during counterinsurgency operations. He said it will also encourage AFP commanders to promptly identify perpetrators and make sure that the proper charges are filed.
Tinio noted that of the hundreds of cases of extrajudicial killings, involuntary disappearances, torture, and other serious violations of human rights linked to state security forces and primarily targeting activists, from the Arroyo administration to the present, only 26 cases have been filed in court. “More importantly, there has not been a single conviction of military personnel. Impunity continues to prevail.”
Tinio explained that the climate of impunity encourages continued violations of human rights. “Since President Aquino assumed office last year, there have been at least 45 cases of extrajudicial killings of activists, many of them linked to the military. As numerous human rights organizations here and abroad have pointed out, such gross abuses will only stop if the government makes it clear to perpetrators that their careers in the military will be over and that they will go to jail.”
During last night’s week’s plenary debate on the DND’ proposed budget, Tinio asked his colleagues in the House to support a provision that would authorize the withholding of the operational funds of an AFP unit if the Commission on Human Rights finds “credible evidence” of its involvement in a gross human rights violation.
The funds will only be released when the CHR reports to the President that the Secretary of the DND and law enforcement authorities have taken effective measures to identify the responsible members of the unit and ensure that the appropriate charges are filed against them.
“The provision is intended to make commanders in the field to adhere to human rights and humanitarian laws, and to underscore the responsibility of the DND secretary to ensure that charges are filed against individual perpetrators. The CHR is given the role of vetting complaints and weeding out spurious allegations,” explained Tinio.
He acknowledged that the proposed “no impunity” provision drew some inspiration from the Leahy Law in the United States. “That’s a provision in US foreign aid appropriations legislation, introduced by Senator Patrick Leahy that prohibits the granting of US military aid to foreign security forces units with a known track record of gross human rights violations.”
Tinio noted that the approval of the proposed provision would mark this administration’s commitment to effectively addressing the problem of impunity, using all means at the government’s disposal. “The release or non-release of funds has always been a powerful tool for pushing reforms and modifying behavior in government. Why not use it to promote human rights?”
The text of the proposed special provision is as follows:
Withholding of operational funds of AFP units involved in gross human rights violations. Upon a determination, by the Commission on Human Rights, of credible evidence that a unit of the Armed Forces of the Philippines has committed a gross violation of human rights, the MOOE, including combat expenses, of the unit concerned shall be withheld until the CHR determines and reports to the President that the Secretary of the Department of National Defense and law enforcement authorities have taken effective measures to identify the responsible member/s of the unit and ensure that the appropriate charges are filed.
Tinio also proposed to remove the funding of Payapa at Masaganang Pamayanan (PAMANA) program from the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (OPAPP) budget, arguing that Opapp is not an implementing agency but only a policy-making and coordinative body. He pointed out that it is highly anomalous for an essentially armless agency to be given charge of a project P329,343,000 (US$ 812,425) when the Staffing Summary of Opapp does not record a single permanent item.
“During the plenary deliberations for the budget of Oppap, it was revealed that this office does not have the absorptive capacity to implement the Pamana program,” he said.
Higher budget for education
For the DepEd budget, Tinio proposed for the following amendments: additional P650 million (US$ 151,162.79) for the augmentation of cash allowances (widely known as “chalk allowance”) for teachers; the deletion of the special provision allowing National Elementary and Secondary Schools to augment their budgets through collection of fees; the creation of 38,593 additional permanent teacher items to address the teacher shortage; the deletion of the provision for Public-Private Partnership (PPP) School Building Projects; the regularization of 68,593 kindergarten and locally funded teachers; and the inclusion of funds for the construction of 6,250 additional classrooms. Tinio earlier argued against PPPs in social infrastructure, citing reports proving they are costlier for taxpayers. If approved, the additional funding requirements for the proposed amendments in the DepEd budget shall be taken from the funds of the Pamana program, the Conditional Cash Transfers-Pantawid Pamilya Pilipino Program (4Ps), and the PPP scheme. For SUCs, Tinio recommended a provision prioritizing the regularization of 14,425 precariously employed part-time faculty and the creation of 8,000 new teaching items to effectively address the lack of qualified regular faculty in the SUCs.
Provision for persons with disabilities
The lawmaker is also batting for the inclusion of a debt cap provision and the allocation of funds for programs and services for persons with disabilities.
“In our proposed amendment, the total indebtedness of the National Government and any of its agencies, offices, government owned and controlled corporations must not exceed 55 percent of the latest Gross Domestic Product,” said Tinio.
Based on latest reports, government debt has surpassed the supposedly ideal and manageable levels, even reaching 378.7 percent of the GDP in 2004. The Philippines had also been paying interests double than what other countries pay (8.7 percent as opposed to only four or five percent for other countries), without the congress knowing the details of the payments.
“Last year, the consolidated debt obligation of the national government was 57 percent of the GDP. It comprised P2.537 trillion ($59 billion) in internal debt, and P1.921 trillion ($44 billion) in external debt),” Tinio explained. “Ordinary citizens are carrying the burden of paying the ballooning amount of government debt!”
Finally, lawmaker proposed amending Section 28 concerning programs and/or projects related to senior citizens and differently-abled:
“All departments, bureaus, offices, agencies,commissions, and government owned and controlled corporations including state colleges and universities shall set aside at least one percent of their total FY 2012 budget appropriations for programs, services, and activities for senior citizens. They shall also set aside at least one percent (for programs, services, and activities for persons with disabilities. Local government units shall set aside at least five percent of their total FY 2012 budget appropriations for programs, services, and activities for persons with disabilities.”
“This provision includes an obligation upon all government buildings and structures to have facilities or features that would ensure the mobility, safety, and welfare of persons with disabilities,” he said.
Rechannel military and dole-out funds to SUCs and social services The Anakbayan group of militant students and youth has also issued proposals for amendments in the 20112 budget. It said that congress should increase allocations for State Universities and Colleges (SUCs), education and social services and take the funds from other concerns.
Vencer Crisostomo, Anakbayan chairman, said congress should rechannel the intelligence and “confidential” lump-sum funds amounting to P789.3 million (US$183,488.837) mostly from the Office of the President and the DND.
“These funds are unaudited and are lump sum funds which have been earlier found to be source of corruption. The funds should be given to SUCs, as well as the AFP modernization lump-sum fund of P5 billion ($116 million). These funds are largely used for corruption, and in any case, education should be prioritized over military spending. This should instead be rechannelled to capital outlay of schools,” he said.
Crisostomo also targeted the conditional cash transfers and PAMANA dole-outs worth P15.2 billion (US$348,837) saying that the schemes are also corruption-prone and are “artificial, ineffective and expensive projects which will not help solve poverty.”He also said funds allotted to the Commission on Higher Education (CHED) and the Miscellaneous Personnel Benefits Fund worth P2.5 billion (US$581,395.34) should be directly given to SUCs.
”Realigning these funds can increase the budget of SUCs substantially by P23.8 billion (US$558,139,534) and provide the bare necessities the school needs to operate. Government should work toward increasing the budget for SUCs substantially every year. There are more funds not yet mentioned which can be utilized for education and other social services such as debt servicing, the PPP funds, and others,” he said.
“The Aquino government should put its money where its mouth is and stop making excuses. It should act now to fund provide quality education and sufficient social services.”
Finally, he noted that the Philippine Association of State Universities and Colleges (PASUC) submitted a proposal of P45 billion (US$104,651,163) budget for 2012 to the government.