“There are numerous and sharp increases in the proposed budget for items which are clearly geared for electioneering and pork.”
By MARYA SALAMAT
MANILA – The Philippine Congress is set to tackle the Aquino administration’s proposed budget for 2016, an election year, and already, concerned legislators are calling on the public to support their scrutiny of the budget and prevent the administration from railroading its approval once again.
“The P3.002-trillion ($65.6 billion) proposed national budget for 2016 is intrinsically designed for corruption and ramped-up election spending,” Kabataan Partylist Rep. Terry Ridon said Wednesday. Against the Aquino administration’s claims that its proposed budget is ‘saligan ng tuloy-tuloy na pag-unlad,’ (base for continuing growth), the details in the thick budget books show that it is geared more for ‘tuloy-tuloy na kawatan’ (for continuing thievery), Ridon said.
The proposed 2016 budget is more than double the P1.541 trillion ($33.7 billion) national budget in 2010, the year President Benigno Cojuangco Aquino III assumed office.
Aside from its increases over the years under Aquino, the budget has consistently been loaded with pork, various critics and budget watchdogs have pointed out. Since 2015, these pork were relabeled in the budget following massive public protest and the subsequent rulings of the Supreme Court against the Aquino administration’s Disbursement Acceleration Program DAP), and the legislators’ pork PDAF (Priority Development Assistance Fund).
Sharp increases in proposed budget, lump sums
There are numerous and sharp increases in the proposed budget for items which are clearly geared for electioneering and pork, Kabataan Rep. Ridon said in a statement released Wednesday, August 5.
The lawmaker pointed to the sharp increase in the budget allotted to the “Special Purpose Funds” (SPFs) for 2016, the portion of the budget which various public finance watchdogs have likened to pork, due to its discretionary nature. Aquino proposes to nearly double the amount of next year’s SPF, which are all largely under his control.
In Aquino’s proposed budget for 2016, Special Purpose Funds are to be increased by 75.2 percent, from P245.7 billion ($5.37 billion) this year to P430.4 billion ($9.41 billion) next year.
“More glaringly, the lump sum portion of SPFs is set to increase by 101.7 percent, from the current P48.3 billion ($1.1 billion) to P97.4 billion ($2.13 billion),” Ridon said.
The Aquino administration is also angling for increased budget for “influence-peddling in the LGUs (local government units,” the youth lawmaker said.
He pointed to the “conspicuous increase” in the lump sum Local Government Support Fund, (LGSF) which grew more than four times from the current P3.1 billion ($67.8 million) to P18.4 billion ($4.02 billion) in 2016.
According to the 2016 National Expenditure Program, the LGSF will be used to support various “priority programs and projects of LGUS,” implement “bottom-up budgeting projects,” and “rehabilitate and upgrade provincial roads.”
But its sheer amount for next year, an election year, is suspicious, Ridon said.
“This is essentially a fund that the administration will use to strengthen its grip and influence on LGUs ahead of the 2016 presidential elections,” he added.
On top of these, the Aquino administration is seeking a 29 percent increase in the government’s infrastructure outlay, which is set at P766.5 billion ($16.8 billion), of which P268.4 billion ($5.87) is allocated for the paving of 31,242 kilometers of roads.
Noting how in the Philippines, the common people traditionally view the rush in road building as signal of upcoming elections, as well as sources of “kickbacks” by those in position, Ridon said the increase in the infrastructure outlay is no doubt related to the upcoming polls.
Pork still alive, heftier, in disguise
Despite the abolition of the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) or the congressional pork barrel, various finance watchdogs and the Makabayan bloc of lawmakers have repeatedly disclosed how there are still many ways in which legislators and corrupt politicians have been dipping their hands in the national budget. The proposed 2016 budget is no different, except carrying more pork, according to Ridon.
“For example, the P32.7 billion ($715 million) budget for irrigation under the National Irrigation Administration (NIA) is divided into several lump sums that have yet to be disaggregated. There is also a special provision in the said budget that allows for post-enactment modification of project details, giving ample room for corrupt practices and insertion of pork projects,” Ridon explained.
He also pointed to the P7-billion ($153 million) budget for farm-to-market roads under the Department of Agriculture (DA) next year as similar example of pork in another label.
“On paper, the DA is the one mandated to ensure that the places in which the farm-to-market roads will be built will lead to key agricultural production areas. Yet there is no stopping unscrupulous public officials from involving themselves in the identification of the project areas,” Ridon said, concluding that such practice transforms the specific allotted funds into pork.
Unfortunately, these are just some examples of where the pork are clearly visible in the proposed 2016 budget. In this year’s budget, the Makabayan bloc of lawmakers and other finance watchdogs have been vocal in pointing to how even the unconstitutional DAP and PDAF have been resurrected in various forms, and last month, even former Senator Ping Lacson spoke out against the same pork.
In the proposed 2016 budget, Ridon said there are many other lump sum allocations for various programs and projects in several agencies, including the Department of Public Works and Highways, that are highly vulnerable to corruption.