Defense officials fail to 'defend' budget

by RG Cruz, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Sep 16 2010 11:35 PM | Updated as of Sep 17 2010 07:35 AM

MANILA, Philippines - This was one battle these battle-hardened former officers were obviously unprepared for.

Department of National Defense (DND) officials, headed by a veteran military general, found themselves unprepared and “defense-less” in defending their agency’s budget in a hearing in the House of Representatives.

National Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin, the former security chief of the late President Corazon Aquino who is the mother of the incumbent president, failed to answer questions on his agency’s budget.

Some of his undersecretaries in the DND, meanwhile, gave off-tangent answers to questions posed by House Minority Leader Rep. Edcel Lagman.

Lagman started his questioning by asking Gazmin about specific proposed amendments to the National  Defense Act of the Philippines.

Gazmin replied with a general enumeration citing increases in the combat pay, improvement of morale, subsistence allowance, institutionalization of the Philippine Defense Reform Program, and providing for a fixed term for the Armed Forces’ Chief of Staff.

When Lagman pressed for details, Gazmin failed to give an answer

This prompted Lagman to quip: “The department is not prepared to defend their presentation. I hope the body is prepared.”

Gazmin then referred the legislators to his Undersecretary for Legal and Special Concerns Pio Lorenzo Batino.

Batino, however, also gave vague answers, prompting Lagman to point out “those are vague statements, bordering on generalities.”

Lagman then sought a bill of particulars that will list down the specific policy reforms to be submitted next week.

After that, Lagman asked about the budget for the calamity fund and how much of it will go to the DND.

Gazmin said that they can’t talk about it because the implementing rules and regulations for the National Disaster Risk Reduction Council (NDRRC) is not out yet. The NDRRC is the former National Disaster Coordinating Council.

Gazmin again referred the legislators to his subordinate Office of Civil Defense (OCD) head retired Maj. Gen. Benito Ramos, who replied that some of it will be in the Internal Revenue Allotment (IRA) of local government units.

Lagman noted that the reply Ramos provided did not answer the question he posed.

Gazmin then gave figures for capital outlays, but Lagman noted that the DND secretary is mixing up figures.

The House minority leader then asked if the DND proposed a revolving calamity fund. Gazmin said they did, but Lagman cited that it’s not in the submitted budget proposal for the DND.

During an ambush interview after his grilling of DND officials, Lagman expressed concern over the unpreparedness of the officials, and how it shows that President Benigno Aquino III should have vetted his appointees better.

Lagman said the president’s selection process should have been done better. Lagman also argued that newness on the job shouldn’t be an excuse, and should not lead to any doubts on the competence of the appointees.

The grilling by the legislators then proceeded amid hushed smiles over the increasingly embarrassing situation.

Muntinlupa City Rep. Rodolfo Biazon, himself a former Senate defense committee chair and a former Armed Forces chief, attempted to help the DND officials explain themselves, but he wasn’t allowed by the chair.

Meanwhile, members of the Kabataan party-list made a scene during the hearing by silently flashing small paper posters calling for a lower military budget and a higher budget for education.