*photo courtesy of Ariel Casilao
Davao Mayor Rodrigo Duterte, the country’s next President, has vowed to strip all vestiges of pork from the government, according to representatives of militant party-list groups.
Ariel Casilao, the first nominee of Anakpawis in the May 2016 elections said Duterte stressed his pledge during a two-hour meeting with Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos Zarate and officers of Bayan Davao.
“Bawal na din ang congressional license plates and other signs of privilege,” he added.
Duterte also promised to persuade Congress to give departments the proper funds for necessary programs.
“He said lawmakers would no longer have powers to assign health services and scholarships,” Casilao said. The authority would return to agencies with aid from data provided by local governments.
If the promise holds, it would be a major victory for activists who have long campaigned against the massive use of discretionary funds by all branches of government.
The Supreme Court unanimously ruled that the long practice of pork is unconstitutional, despite arguments from President Benigno Aquino III’s government. It also ruled against many aspects of Mr. Aquino’s Disbursement Acceleration Program or DAP.
Both programs have been identified with widespread graft and corruption, including the P10-billion pork scandal of Janet Napoles for which several legislators have been charged with plunder.
While Mr. Aquino initially claimed to back the anti-pork movement, he swiftly shifted to a strong defense. He railed against the Supreme Court when it ruled on many salient points of DAP, which has taken away from congress-approved projects, shifting spending to pet projects of Malacanang. Activists have pledged to pursue criminal charges against Mr. Aquino and his top officials after they step down on June 30.
What Duterte wants, Casilao said, is for Congress to “triple the budgets of departments” so they can provide better service to citizens.
It has been a congressional practice to slash departmental and agency funds, to allow legislators’ powers to influence executive actions.
Duterte earlier said he would be selling off government assets, like the presidential yacht, to ensure funds for the welfare of soldiers and cops, and the deployment of health professionals to the countryside.
The incoming president said he would provide allowances to ensure that young professionals are encouraged to work for the government.
Casilao said Duterte believes there can be enough money with an austerity program where officials and government employees account for every peso spent.
“He wants greater focus on health and education services,” Casilao said.
Duterte has announced a ban on junkets by government officials, bringing experts to the provinces to save on training costs, and to impose simple lifestyles on all government officials.
Some economic experts, including former National Treasurer Leonor Briones, have warned that with the campaign expense blitz of the incumbent administration, there may be little cash leftover for Duterte.
“There will be practically nothing left of the 2016 national budget” when Duterte takes his oath as President on June 30, the Dumaguete Metro Post quoted Briones as saying.
She said the 2017 national budget is 3 trillion 350 billion pesos, and that it is almost entirely to fund the projects of President Aquino.
She said the new President will only have three weeks after he assumes the presidency to submit his 2017 budget.
“If he realigns funds, he will have to move very fast. He has to have a very strong Congress. He has to ensure a massive exodus of traitors who will go to his camp, and change that budget. He will be like Jesus Christ who will conduct a mass baptism in the river of Congress to change the budget. Otherwise, they will have to go around it. It’s a narrow space for ‘Captain Philippines’.
“He will have to resort to horse-trading, and he will have to work very very hard, and he will have to copy [the programs of other candidates] very vast,” Briones predicted.
Communist Party of the Philippines (CCP) founder Jose Ma Sison also said Tuesday the national government “is in crisis.”
“In last elections, the government spent na parang walang econ crisis,” Sison told a gathering of activists.
He expressed surprise that the presidential candidates in the May 2016 polls did not debate on the economic crisis.
“Due to this crisis, hot money has been going out since 2014,” Sison said.
“Parang walang malay sa pandaignidan antas ng krisis na nag-umpisa nang umepekto sa Pilipinas,” said Sison, who also chairs the International League of People’s Struggles (ILPS). (They seemed to have no knowledge about the global crisis that has already started affecting the Philippines.)
He said despite praise from investment bodies and multilateral lending institutions, Aquino worsened the country’s problems with heavy borrowing.
“But due to crisis, hot money has been going out since 2014,” he pointed out.
DBM defends Aquino fiscal performance
The Department of Budget and Management, meanwhile, defended the Aquino government’s fiscal policies, saying Duterte would inherit a “robust, transparent and performance-based budget.”
The DBM confirmed Wednesday that that 84 percent of the P3-trillion budget for 2016 has been released to agencies as of end April 2016.
But it stressed, this does not mean that the incoming administration has been left with little resources for its priority programs.
“It is not true that only 16 percent of the budget is left, contrary to the claim of the camp of former Vice President Jejomar Binay. That is an incorrect and malicious claim. Allotment releases to agencies do not indicate actual spending of funds,” Budget Secretary Florencio B. Abad said.
An allotment gives an agency the authority to obligate funds for projects. When projects have been awarded, the funds have been obligated and it is only then that actual funds are disbursed to agencies to pay the contractors and suppliers.
Abad clarified that of the total P3.002 trillion general appropriation in 2016, P2.505 trillion in allotments have already been released to government agencies. The remaining allotments amount to P496.3 billion and this is slated to be released later this year.
For Special Purpose Funds (SPFs), as of May 2016, P157.4 billion has already been released out of the P446.4 billion total appropriation—a large share of which was for the Budgetary Support to Government Corporations at P43.1 billion and the Pension and Gratuity Fund at P41.6 billion. This still leaves 75 percent or P332.8 billion in SPFs to be utilized by the incoming administration—with P58.0 billion for the miscellaneous personnel benefits of government personnel and P42.1 billion still intact for calamities.
Abad said the comprehensive release of agency budgets was made possible through the GAA-As-Release-Document regime, a public financial management reform in 2014 that phased out the Agency Budget Matrices (ABMs) and Special Allotment Release Orders (SAROs) from the budget process to facilitate the swift and efficient implementation of the expenditure program. With the General Appropriations Act (GAA) as the primary fund release document, agencies are now able to obligate funds for their projects in the beginning of the year and thereby accelerate spending.
“Let me assure the people and the incoming administration that the 2016 national budget was not squandered in the last elections and the appropriations in the budget are being released and spent according to the specific purposes and guidelines in the General Appropriations Act,” the budget chief said.
“We are proud to say that the next administration will inherit not only a financially stable and robust budget, but also a transparent and performance-based budget. If you look at the GAA, and it is available online, it has detailed disclosure of agencies’ performance targets. Also, we have disaggregated the lump sum amounts in the agency budgets into component projects, intended beneficiaries and location in order for the GAA to function as a budget release document.”
“The Aquino administration, under a solid platform of good and effective governance, has been able to craft a national budget that reflects transparency and accountability in public financial management,” added Abad.
For a full breakdown of releases as of April 2016, you can refer to our website: http://www.dbm.gov.ph/?page_id=15576