PNoy signs 2014 national budget today

By Jess Diaz, The Philippine Star

Posted at Dec 20 2013 02:20 AM | Updated as of Dec 20 2013 10:20 AM

MANILA, Philippines - President Aquino is signing today the proposed P2.264-trillion national budget for 2014.

Invited to the signing ceremonies at Malacañang are top officials of Congress led by Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr. and Senate President Franklin Drilon.

Others invited include Senate President Pro-Tempore Ralph Recto, Senate Majority Leader Alan Peter Cayetano, his House counterpart Majority Leader Neptali Gonzales II, deputy speakers, finance committee chairman Sen. Francis Escudero and his House counterpart, appropriations committee chairman Rep. Isidro Ungab of Davao City.

The Congress-approved budget is about P4 billion lower than the President’s proposal of P2.268-trillion.

The bulk of the reduction represents the combined pork barrel funds of P200 million for each of 15 senators, plus the P200-million social fund of Vice President Jejomar Binay.

Seven other senators and all members of the House of Representatives, except for three or four, realigned their pork barrel allocations.

The approved budget includes a provision requiring all agencies and constitutional offices with fiscal autonomy, including the Supreme Court, to submit quarterly and annual financial statements and accomplishment reports to the Department of Budget and Management (DBM), the Senate and the House.

The financial statements should include details on fund use, fund sources, fees collected and beginning and ending balances.

The financial and accomplishment reports should cover both on-budget and off-budget funds.

The Judiciary Development Fund (JDF), which some lawmakers have labeled as the Supreme Court’s pork barrel, is an off-budget item, as it is not included in the SC budget and is not turned over to the national treasury.

The JDF is until now beyond the scrutiny of the DBM, the Senate and the House.

Graft monitor

A network of non-government organizations has launched an institute that will monitor and oppose government officials engaged in questionable dealings in the management of public funds.

Social Watch Philippines (SWP) has formed the People’s Public Finance Institute (PPFI)-National Capital Region Center at the Philippine Rural Reconstruction Movement (PRRM) headquarters in Quezon City to fight the “evils” in the country’s public finance.

Former national treasurer Leonor Briones, SWP lead convenor, said the PPFI is a center that educates the general public, civil society organizations and individuals on national and local public finance processes working under the framework of citizens’ participation.

“It offers courses on participation in local revenue administration, local budgeting, local expenditures monitoring, local procurement process and audit of local government funds,” she said.

“There are times when evil in public finance seems impossible to defeat. The Supreme Court’s decision that the Priority Development Assistance Fund is unconstitutional is winning a portion of the battle. At the local level, even 15-year-old local officials in the Sangguniang Kabataan are receiving their own pork barrels,” Briones said.

“Also, we are very happy that the bicameral conference committee meeting for the 2014 national budget was opened to civil society groups but this does not mean that the battle for transparency had been won. Yet, the fact that the committee only took one hour to approve the budget means that the 2014 General Appropriations Act (GAA) was negotiated and agreed upon even before the formal bicam meeting took place,” she added.

Isagani Serrano, SWP co-convenor and PRRM president, said, “These battles, among many other battles against evils in the processes of public fund management and utilization, are the essence of the People’s Public Finance Institute.” – With Rhodina Villanueva