Full of pork? Congressmen approve P3-T 2016 budget

Full of pork? Congressmen approve P3-T 2016 budget
(UPDATED) Kabataan Representative Terry Ridon says the budget is 'loaded with lump sums, sneaky provisions crafted for fund juggling, and billions of funds [for] the ruling party’s campaign war chest'

MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – The House of Representatives approved late Friday night, October 9, the proposed P3.002 trillion (about $65 billion) national government budget for 2016.

Voting 230-20 on 3rd and final reading, congressmen approved the general appropriations bill practically without touching the version that Malacañang submitted in July.

It was a marathon deliberation. In 12 hours, the lawmakers passed the bill on 2nd and 3rd reading, after President Benigno Aquino III certified it as urgent.

A party-list congressman said House Bill 6132 or the 2016 General Appropriations Act was crafted in such a way that it could be used as election money by the ruling Liberal Party’s ticket.

“The P3-trillion national budget that the House passed tonight is a budget loaded with lump-sums, sneaky provisions crafted for fund juggling a lá DAP, and billions of funds designed to serve as the ruling party’s campaign war chest,” Kabataan Representative Terry Ridon said in a statement shortly after the budget was approved.

The proposed amount represents a 15.2% increase from this years’s budget of P2.6 billion ($57 billion). It is also the first time the proposed national budget reached the trillion-peso mark.

Social and economic services get the biggest chunk of the budget – P1.1 trillion ($24 billion) and P829 billion ($18.2 billion), respectively. The Department of Education gets the biggest budget among departments with P435.9 billion or an increase of 15.4% from the 2015 budget. (Click here to see the sectoral allocations.) 

In a statement released Saturday, October 10, Budget Secretary Florencio “Butch” Abad said, “We have produced a budget that moved away from the practice of incremental and leakage-prone allocation of scarce resources and lump-sum appropriations; and moved towards performance-based outcome budgeting. We have enabled agencies to undertake swift implementation of priority programs and projects and communities to have a say on how funds may be used to address their real needs.”

Election budget?

Ridon noted that HB 6132 has, among other features:

  • “the savings provision that essentially legalizes the Disbursement Acceleration Program,” referring to the program of the Aquino government that the Supreme Court declared partly unconstitutional
  • “the P24.7 budget for bottom-up budgeting, which has been revealed to be designed to pour funds in vote-rich regions and traditional bailiwicks of the ruling party”
  • the fatter Conditional Cash Transfer Program,” the social welfare fund that the administration had been accused of using to steer public preference toward its candidates.

“Ang laman ng 2016 budget ay basically 4Ps: pang-pork barrel, pambayad-utang, panuhol sa eleksyon, at pangpuhunan ng malalaking negosyante. Wala sa equation ang taumbayan,” said Ridon, who had been raising red flags on the budget since the time it was submitted in Congress. 

(The 2016 budget will basically fund pork barrel, debt servicing, election bribes, and investment aid for big businessmen. The ordinary citizen is not in the equation.)

Abad, however, said in his statement, “It is at this point that we are scaling up good governance reforms so that we are able to increase the economy’s ability to attain inclusive growth. We have hammered the nuts and bolts of key public financial management reforms in place but now we must ensure that they cannot be moved or lost.”

‘Highlights of the debate’

Ridon cited 5 points that highlighted the deliberations on the budget Friday:

  • Debt servicing remains a priority. P740.5 billion is being proposed for this, way higher than P504.6 billion being proposed for education.
  • The budget for several agencies – among them the Department of Public Works and Highways, the Department of Health, and the Department of Transportation and Communications – allows for “project modification” midway, thus giving the offices “absolute discretion” to possibly turn their budgets into pork barrel.
  • There’s a total of P650 billion in lump sum in the proposed budget, again giving national agencies and executive offices discretion on the fund beyond Congress’ oversight. 
  • 59 state universities and colleges will suffer cuts in their operating budget.
  • A minimum of P65.9 billion is allotted for public-private partnership projects, at the same time that the P30 billion risk management program is retained. The latter “is essentially a budget for financial and regulatory risk guarantee to protect private profits against unforeseen events,” Ridon said.

Congress goes on a two-week break on Saturday, October 10. The Senate will start deliberating on the budget bill in November. 

For reports on the 2016 budget, go to our #BudgetWatch page. – Rappler.com 


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