Social watch sees ‘insertions’ in 2016 budget amounting to billions

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MALAYBALAY CITY (MindaNews/25 December) — The P3.002-trillion 2016 budget approved by President Benigno Aquino III is “loaded with pork and lump sum appropriations”, budget watchdog Social Watch Philippines said on Friday.

Leonor Briones, lead convenor of the group, said “more than PhP930 Billion is in automatic appropriations; while Special Purpose Funds total PhP408 Billion and Unprogrammed Funds total PhP67.5 Billion.”

She said the projects include farm-to-market roads “which are identified with legislators who tend to claim credit for them during election sorties.”

Briones said “transparency is the hallmark of accountable budgeting,” but noted that “the practice now is for legislators to send instructions to agencies just by text or telephone calls. This is true for health assistance, employment and cash dole-outs. This trend further muddles the flow of information to the public, especially since there is no paper trail.”

Social Watch called for more details on the 27 amendments from the Bicameral Committee which are subject to “conditional implementation”.

“The Constitution does not provide for conditional implementation. The proposed General Appropriations Act can either be approved in full or its particular line items be vetoed by the President,” it said.

The group said the 2016 budget “will benefit the political objectives of the present administration as well as the incoming officials. This is due to the redefinition of savings which is provided for in the general provisions of the GAA. The provisions of the 2016 budget can easily be changed and transferred; projects can be stopped; new projects can be initiated because of the redefinition.”

Social Watch cited the following as examples of revisions and budgetary adjustments in the budget:
P326 million increase for Farm to Market Road Projects under the Department of Agriculture (P7.377 billion from P7.051 billion in National Expenditure Program)
P987.930 million increase for Assistance to Indigent Patients under the Department of Health-Office of the Secretary (P2.783 billion from P1.795 billion in NEP)
P2.54 billion increase for Government Internship Program and Tulong Pangkabuhayan sa Ating Disadvantaged Workers Project under the Department of Labor and Employment-Office of the Secretary
P403 million increase for Training for Work Scholarship Program under the DOLE-Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (P2.206 billion from P2.203 billion in NEP)
P1.248 billion increase for Local Infrastructure Program under Department of Public Works and Highways-Office of the Secretary (P19.813 billion from P18.566 billion in NEP)
P5.382 billion increase for Protective Services Program under the Department of Social Welfare and Development-Office of Secretary (P6.698 billion from P1.315 billion in NEP)
P144 million increase for Tulong Dunong Program under the Commission on Higher Education (P1.130 billion from P986.231 million in NEP)
P662.538 million increase for Financial Assistance to LGUs under Local Government Support Fund in the Allocation to Local Government Units (P862.538 million from P200 million in NEP)

PDAF-like

“Earlier, Social Watch estimated that around PhP33.2 Billion went to PDAF-like funds distributed across five agencies. Estimates from other groups are more or less similar to what we have arrived at,” Briones added.

PDAF, or the Priority Development Assistance Fund, is a discretionary fund the use of which may be determined by members of Congress. But in November 2013 the Supreme Court declared it as unconstitutional.

The Supreme Court has also declared as unconstitutional the Development Acceleration Fund channeled to members of the Senate.

Social Watch however said the redefinition of savings authorizes the transfer of DAP-like funds already declared by the Supreme Court as unconstitutional.

‘Inclusive growth’

In his message during the signing of the 2016 General Appropriations Act on Dec. 22, Aquino said the approved budget reflected his administration’s goal of achieving inclusive growth.

He added his government implemented thorough consultations so that the people themselves would design the projects that must be funded. (MindaNews)

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