'Queen bee' funds worse than pork, group says

MANILA, Philippines – Has the pork barrel disturbed you? Wait, a group says. There’s more.

A budget watchdog on Friday, August 16, said the public should direct its rage not only toward the pork barrel, but toward what it calls the “queen bee” behind these controversial funds. 

The group Social Watch Philippines (SWP) was referring to the so-called special purpose funds (SPFs). The pork barrel is a small part of the SPFs, the group said. SWP called for the abolition of the SPFs as well as the pork barrel.

In a statement, SWP lead convenor and former National Treasurer Leonor Magtolis Briones described SPFs as lump-sum funds included in the General Appropriations Act, part of the national budget.

“These are not as detailed and specific as the budget proposals of regular agencies.  Once these are approved, they are vulnerable to reductions, transfers, and ‘adjustments’ since these are lump sums,” Briones explained.

The SWP said it’s crucial for the public to scrutinize the SPFs because Congress hardly debates the use of these funds. Usually, these funds don’t receive enough public attention, and thus have become “vulnerable to abuse.”

Huge chunk

Despite this lack of public scrutiny, however, SPFs comprise 22% of the proposed P1.4-trillion General Appropriations Act for 2014, the SWP said. The group said this fund is managed directly by the Department of Budget and Management and approved by the President.

The proposed programmed SPFs for 2014 amount to P310.1 billion along with P139.9 billion in unprogrammed funds, according to the group.

The biggest items under the SPFs include the following: 

The proposed pork barrel, or priority development assistance fund, is P25.24 billion, according to the group. This is 8% of the proposed SPFs.

The SWP said the national government should heed the advice of the Commission on Audit (COA) to abolish the SPF. “There should be no room for budgets with only general assumptions and vague details,” Briones said.

She added: “As citizens, we should also monitor the other larger lump sums. It is high time to expand the scope of our advocacy from a small portion of the special purpose fund, which is the pork barrel, to the whole SPF itself.  In other words why not target the ‘queen bee’ and not just some soldiers and workers?”

The pork barrel came under scrutiny after an exposé on the alleged misuse of these funds. Solons allegedly allowed syndicates to access their pork barrel in exchange for hefty kickbacks.

The COA on Friday said at least 10 non-government organizations “presently linked” to Janet Lim-Napoles received P2.157 billion in pork barrel between 2007 and 2009. – Rappler.com

Paterno R. Esmaquel II

Paterno R. Esmaquel II is a senior reporter leading Rappler’s coverage of religion and foreign affairs. He finished MA Journalism in Ateneo and MSc Asian Studies (Religions in Plural Societies) at RSIS, Singapore. For story ideas or feedback, email him at pat.esmaquel@rappler.com.

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