Briones: 'Pork barrel' hidden in 2015 budget

by RG Cruz, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Dec 17 2014 09:18 PM | Updated as of Dec 18 2014 05:18 AM

MANILA - Former National Treasurer Leonor Briones on Wednesday insisted that the 2015 national budget is still filled with pork barrel, despite Supreme Court decisions on the unconstitutionality of the Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP) and the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF).

This, after her Social Watch Philippines group studied the Bicameral Conference Committee version of the 2015 national budget that was ratified by both houses of Congress last Monday.

The budget bill is now due for President Aquino's signature.

Briones said as much as P47 billion in PDAF were hidden in 5 different agencies.

"The bicam basically crafted and approved a budget that skirts around the SC decisions. The bicameral conference committee raised the PDAF-like funds in the respective five agencies to P47,181,145,000 from the House-approved P37,326,580,000. The executive (department) originally proposed a total of P33,385,405,000 in the National Expenditure Program. This translates into to a total increase of P13,464,266,000 from budget proposed by the executive," Briones said.

"Taguan talaga ito right from the beginnning. Ito tinatawag local infra program na walang klaro prinopose ng lawmakers. We shouldn't take it seriously naging kaugalian na talaga sino ba nagbabantay sa mga local infra projects. 'Di naman namo-monitor, pili ito ng mga congressman, senador."

Briones also noted that cross-border transfers, which were cited as among the reasons for DAP's unconstitutionality, are also legitimized in the 2015 budget "with the inclusion of a special provision in certain special purpose funds which allow the executive to declare them as savings 'to augment deficiency in the budget of the Judicial Branch, Legislative Branch and Executive Branch of the government including Constitutional Commissions and Offices.'"

She said special purpose funds included are: E-Government Fund, International Commitments Fund, Miscellaneous Personnel Benefits Fund, National Disaster Risk Reduction Management Fund, Pension and Gratuity Fund, and Rehabilitation and Reconstruction Program.

“There are provisions which are very vague in the budget. In Section 69(a)(b), there are no restrictions to deficiencies brought about by 'justified' modifications or adjustments for Programs, Activities and Projects (P/A/P). How are 'justified causes' identified? There are no guidelines on this,” Briones said.

'SAVINGS'

Briones also pointed out what she believes are vulnerabilities present with the meaning and declaration of savings.

Though the phrase "at any time" is removed from the original provision in the General Appropriations Bill, the qualifier "during the validity of appropriations" in Sec. 68 still implies the intention to declare savings at any time of the year.

“There should be a clear provision on when savings should be declared. Ideally, it should be declared at the end of the year following the usual meaning of 'savings.' If 'savings' can be declared at any time of the year and realigned whichever way the executive pleases, the 2015 General Appropriations Act becomes superficial and the Congress loses the power of the purse,” she said.

Her group criticized the 2015 budget in its current form as going against the balance of powers among the branches of government, with the legislative totally surrendering the power of appropriation to the executive.

“Ironically, it is Congress that is facilitating its loss of power. They are rewording the provisions to skirt around the SC decisions to legitimize what is unconstitutional," she said. "It is like saying that if someone is guilty of murder or theft, we simply change what 'murder' and 'theft' mean so the person is no longer guilty. This change of definition and its implications is nothing short of betrayal to the Filipino people and our interests.”

Briones added, "Wala pa ring time frame, ni-remove 'at anytime' pero sinasabi during validity of appropriations. That's one year. One year can start anytime. Problem dito, who will monitor and watch over what they declare."

"May pananagutan sila sa Konstitusyon na sa kanila sasabihin nila karapatan namin ibigay iyan. Saan na balance of power?"

ABAD DEFENDS 2015 BUDGET

Budget Secretary Florencio Abad, in an email, rebutted Briones' claims.

"The Constitution tasked Congress to define what savings are. I trust its wisdom when it performed that mandate. Briones seems to have forgotten the legal and technical definition of 'pork barrel' as clarified in Belgica," he said.

Abad refers to the Supreme Court decision that declared parts of the DAP as unconstitutional.

Makabayan bloc lawmakers look at the issue as a half-empty glass.

ACT Teachers party-list Rep. Antonio Tinio said that with regards to the new definition of savings, "It's a significant defeat for the President."

However, he said there is still leeway for the President. "may luwag sa definition of what an item is . (It) gives the President much more leeway in augmenting."

Bayan Muna Rep. Neri Colmenares said, "Same critique remains. Maraming lump sums, maraming pork barrel. 2016 (is an) election year. Mapakaraming butas sa budget pwede gamitin (na) pork barrel."