Progressive lawmakers decry railroading of ‘pork-full’ 2015 budget

Bayan Muna Rep. Neri Colmenares summarizes what is wrong with the approved 2015 budget with the acronym PPP: wrong Policies, wrong Priorities, and huge Pork barrel.

By MARYA SALAMAT
Bulatlat.com

MANILA – Against demands for more time to discuss President Aquino’s proposed budget, majority of his allies in Congress approved the budget on second reading Friday night September 26 in the House of Representatives. The approval coincided with their self-imposed deadline for passing the budget before they take a break. The House is set to reconvene late next month, when they would start joint deliberation with senators on Aquino’s proposed 2015 budget.

President Benigno "Noynoy" Aquino has been dubbed HolDAPer / pork barrel king in public protests. (Bulatlat File Photo)
President Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino has been dubbed HolDAPer / pork barrel king in public protests. (Bulatlat File Photo)

“Congress did not vote for a people’s budget. Congress voted for the expansion of President Aquino’s fiscal dictatorship,” Kabataan Rep. Terry Ridon said in reaction to the swift passage of the budget. As his fellow lawmakers were scrambling to leave for their planned vacation, Ridon noted that “Tonight, the Filipino people has once again been shortchanged, all to feed the ruling administration’s greed for pork and patronage.”

What is ‘so wrong’ with 2015 budget

In a speech at the House of Representatives before the majority approved the budget, Bayan Muna Rep. Neri Colmenares enumerated why the 2015 national budget is “so wrong.”

He summarized the problems with the 2015 budget with the acronym PPP. And he said it is not just the public-private partnerhip projects or Pantawid Pamilya Program, although he said these are wrong policies also budgeted big time for 2015. What he meant by PPP making the 2015 budget bad for the country is its wrong Policies, wrong Priorities, and huge Pork barrel.

Wrong Policies

In Filipino, he told lawmakers that Filipinos do not need dole-out and band-aid solutions, which seem to be the answer of the 2015 budget to the biggest problems plaguing Filipinos.

“Widespread joblessness and poverty cannot be erased by Aquino’s vaunted growth in gross domestic product,” Colmenares said.

He said it is not just an issue of “trickle down” effect by increasing P64.7 billion PPP or conditional cash transfer, and creating temporary jobs via public-private partnerships.

“Filipinos are hardworking and intelligent, with a wealth of natural resources.” Colmenares also said the country has all it takes to industrialize and become as prosperous as other developed countries. Except that its economic policies are wrong, he said, citing how the Philippine economy is being exploited by big capitalists and landlords while the people suffer worsening poverty.

The Philippine government has followed the US, IMF-WB and WTO dictates in running its economy, resulting in policies of liberalization, privatization and deregulation, Colmenares said. He blames these policies for the country’s failure to industrialize and to modernize its agriculture.

This failure, in turn, has resulted in price hikes of essential goods from garlic to rice to oil products, water, electricity, medicines, health services and education, among others. “Under Aquino, grinding poverty is what’s felt more acutely, rather than growth,” Colmenares said in his speech.

To arrest these, he called for industrialization and genuine agrarian reform and reversal of globalization policies. These are the policies that would generate abundant jobs, he reasoned.

But the 2015 budget follows the Aquino government’s flawed economic priorities, Colmenares told his fellow lawmakers.

Wrong Priorities

It is erroneous to prioritize in the budget debt servicing, military budget, conditional cash transfer and pork barrel, Colmenares told his fellow lawmakers in Filipino. He said big allocations for these are “unproductive, wasteful and prone to corruption.”

Still, the House approved P789.8 billion ($17.6 billion) budget for debt servicing. This is twice the budget for education, thrice the budget for social security, welfare and employment, eight times the budget for health, and 22 times the budget for housing and community development.

The third government agency that gets the highest budget of P144 billion ($3.21 billion) is the Armed Forces of the Philippines and the Department of National Defense, which, human rights groups said, have a horrid record of rights violations.

The budget for Conditional Cash Transfers (CCT) has been increased to P64.7 billion ($1.43 billion) for 2015. Under Aquino from 2011 to 2014, funds for CCT have grown 70 percent, increasing P13 billion ($290 million) every year. Yet, poverty incidence remains the same if not worse, as government records reveal that 23.3 million Filipinos in 2009 were poor, and they increased to 24 million by 2013.

Based on think-tank Ibon’s figures, nearly seven in every 10 Filipinos are poor.

Colmenares said in his speech that the Aquino government has turned its back on its responsibility to adequately finance public services. Echoing the report of various peoples’ organizations, the lawmaker said public services are turned over to capitalists who profit from it.

In the House-approved 2015 budget, about P57.2 billion ($1.3 billion) is allotted for PPP (public-private partnership projects), of which P30 billion ($668.4 million) is for “Risk Management Program,” or public funds guaranteeing profits of businessmen.

Kabataan Partylist Rep. Ridon said the 2015 budget also scrimped on the budget for State Colleges and Universities (SUCs), which are being privatized. Only P122.7 billion ($2.734 billion) or just a third of the asking budget of the country’s 110 SUCs is allotted in next year’s budget.

Last Friday as lawmakers geared to approve President Aquino’s proposed budget, student and youth groups picketed at the gates of the House of Representatives. With teachers, they decried the rising cost of tuition and other school fees, and the persistently unanswered huge need to hire more teachers, build more classrooms, and acquire more school equipment.

Colmenares mentioned also in his speech that a negligible five percent is added to the health budget, and a big chunk of it will go as lumpsum appropriations for what he calls as anomaly-filled PhilHealth and Health Facilities Enhancement Program.

The 2015 budget approved by the House of Representatives slashed to just nearly a quarter (24 percent) of the Department of Health budget, the funds allotted to public hospitals. Colmenares said this is “far” from when Aquino took power, when it was at least 39 percent (of DOH budget).

This explains why all public hospitals in the country are underfunded, lacking equipment, medicines, health personnel and increasingly forced to demand payment for its services, Colmenares said.

Increased Pork

Based on Colmenares’ privileged speech in Congress, the worst thing in the 2015 budget is its transformation into one huge pork barrel by President Aquino.

Ibon Foundation estimated that about P958 billion lump sum discretionary fund or pork barrel is under the control of President Aquino. Contrary to government claims that only 1.8 percent of the total budget (or P48.1 billion) is lump sum, presidential pork or lump sum comprises much of the 2015 budget, distributed for example in the following:

• Budgetary Support to GOCCs, P61.3 billion
• Assistance to LGU, P33.1 billion
• Risk management program, P30 billion
• Support for infra projects and social programs, P20 billion
• Unprogrammed funds, P123 billion
• Much of Miscellaneous Personnel Benefit Fund P118 billion
• Grassroots Participatory Budgeting, P20.9 billion
• Pamana program, P7.3 billion

Also under the president’s discretion are the P148 billion Malampaya funds, P21.2 billion Special Accounts of P29.5 billion Off Budget Accounts, including Motor Vehicles Users’ Charge and President’s Social Fund from Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation (PAGCOR) and the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office (PCSO).

All these, on top of 2014 “savings” estimated to reach P251 billion, which would also become lump sum discretionary fund of the president, Colmenares said in his speech.

“There’s the new savings provision that essentially legalizes the Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP),” Kabataan Rep. Ridon said in another statement.

Colmenares told lawmakers this would effectively waste the time they spent tackling the 2015 budget, since Aquino could turn into his pork any appropriation it declared as “savings” any time of the year.

The Makabayan bloc of lawmakers urged their fellow lawmakers not to pass the 2015 budget proposed by Aquino, and instead, to go back to the drawing board to change its priorities.

”It is in the interest of the people to oppose the passing of the 2015 national budget because there are a lot of questions that have yet to be resolved with regard to the country’s fiscal and development policies,” Anakpawis Party Rep. Fernando Hicap said.

For the Makabayan lawmakers, the budget deliberations have failed to scrutinize Aquino’s proposed budget. Hicap said it failed, for example, to compel the Department of Budget and Management to fully disclose the extent of the unconstitutional operations of Disbursement Acceleration Program.

Much of the interpellations made by members of the opposition during the budget deliberations, from the mysterious sudden bloat in various lump sums to still unexplained inconsistencies in claims and data of controversial agencies such as the Department of Public Works and Highways, Department of Energy, Department of National Defense, among others, still remain unaddressed. But most of Aquino’s allies still voted to approve it by evening of Sept 26.

Kabataan Party Rep. Ridon reiterated how, “For days on end, the Makabayan bloc exposed every nook and cranny of the budget, and found many black holes, quasars, and nebulas of corruption-prone provisions and appropriations.” On top of the already mentioned untouched lump sums, he added the P1.4 billion ‘black’ budget.

Anakpawis Rep. Hicap said a substantial portion of the P2.6 trillion proposed budget by Aquino “is all too prone to ‘political pillage’ especially as election season effectively starts next year.”

“When the majority said yes to the budget, they said yes to an expanded Aquino dictatorship,” Ridon said. ()

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