Briones to candidates: How will you fund promised programs?

MANILA, Philippines – As campaigns reach the homestretch, former national treasurer Leonor Briones tells voters to ask their presidential bets how promised programs are to be funded.

Most bets have grand promises to curb poverty and provide better services but Briones said in a press conference that candidates' plans are largely focused on expenditures.

"The question is, where will financing come from if everyone advocates for low taxes? What do they say about borrowing?" Briones said in a mix of English and Filipino.

Of the 5, only 3 have clear positions on borrowing and foreign debt while all are for reforming the tax system. (READ: Plans and promises: Presidential bets on taxation)

On May 9, Filipinos will choose between presidential bets Vice President Jejomar Binay, Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte, Senator Grace Poe, former Interior secretary Mar Roxas, and Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago.

Below is a quick run-down on their stands:

Borrowing, debt

Based on the watchdog's research, Binay, Santiago and Roxas support borrowing in different manners.

"Talagang nangungutang tayo palagi. Mahalaga ito dahil siguradong mangungutang sila," Briones said, suggesting how candidates will most likely fund their programs. (We always borrow [money]. It is important because they will surely borrow.)

According to Social Watch, Binay believes that borrowing can relieve government from underspending. He is willing to incur bigger debt to provide services and does not see any adverse effect on the country's credit rating.

In a previous interview with GMA News, Binay said that Makati took out loans to provide basic services despite being the richest city in the Philippines.

Roxas, on the other hand, sees that deficit should be maintained below 2% of the gross domestic product (GDP).

He believes in strengthening Public-Private Partnership (PPP) projects to increase flow of Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) to reduce extranal debt.

According to Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas, the outstanding Philippine external debt stood at $77.5 billion as of end-2015, attributed to net borrowing of $1.8 billion mainly by private banks and firms to finance projects.

Meanwhile, Santiago cautions the government against foreign borrowing in a previous statement. She urges the government instead to borrow money from the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas to finance its deficit and service debt.

Santiago said in 2012 that borrowing funds from abroad increases the supply of dollars in the Philippine system and makes the peso stronger.

Lump sums, pork barrel, DAP

FUNDING PROMISES. How will your presidential bets fund their campaign programs?

FUNDING PROMISES.

How will your presidential bets fund their campaign programs?

Briones said being aware of the bets' stand on the decision is important as about a fourth, or P500 billion, of the P3-trillion national budget is composed of lump sum appropriations.

"Ngayon nasa P3.5 trillion ang proposal for 2017. P3 trillion din ang 2016. Palagay ko malaking bultong pera yan," said Briones. (About P3.5 trillion is proposed for 2017. It is also P3 trillion for 2016. I believe that is a huge bulk of money.)

Of the bets, only Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte and Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago had clear positions against lump sum appropriations.

Critics of the Disbursement Acceleration Program said it was unconstitutional because it allowed the executive to augment items in the budget, which is a function of the legislative branch. In July 2014, the SC struck down 3 schemes under DAP as unconstitutional.

According to the budget watchdog's research, Duterte wants to abolish the pork barrel system and DAP. If elected, he would forego the president's pork.

Santiago has a very clear position on the issue as well. She wants full abolition of PDAF, DAP, and lump sum appropriations in all of its forms.

She rejects the redefenition of savings in the 2015 General Appropriations Act. The senator earlier warned the public of opportunities of corruption by the executive branch due to the "broad and lax" definition.

Meanwhile, some senatorial hopefuls have also expressed positions against lump sums.

Only former Rehabilitation secretary Panfilo Lacson, independent bet Greco Belgica, Leyte representative Martin Romualdez and former Akbayan representative Walden Bello have stood against it in the past.

On the other hand, Binay wants to bring a new form of pork barrel back in the Congress while Roxas stands by the position of the administration on DAP and redefinition of savings.

Poe is not keen on the abolition of pork. She believes that legislators should have the chance to allocate resources for their advocacies.

However, transparency on spending pork is important for the senator.

Budget limitations

According to her, the new president cannot do as much "unless he does exactly what the preceeding administration did – transfer funds and create savings."  (READ: Next president limited by Aquino admin budget for 2 years – Briones)

The budget department earlier announce that 90% of the 2016 budget has already been released.

"How will they implement reforms they promised within 6 months, 10 months or one year after assuming office?" Briones asked.

Budget preparations for 2017 has already started, and Congress is set to start its hearings by June. Briones said that the president-elect will only have a month for inputs in the 2017 budget.

Of the candidates, she said that Roxas will not have a problem as most of his programs are geared toward continuing those from the Aquino administration. But other bets will sure have.

"At the end of the day, voters should be able to distinguish which candidates have plans that would produce revenues," said the former national treasurer.– Rappler.com

Aika Rey

Aika Rey covers the Philippine Senate for Rappler. Before writing about politicians, she covered budget, labor, and transportation issues.

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