MANILA (UPDATE) — Senators took turns in grilling Department of Budget and Management (DBM) officials Thursday during the presentation of its proposed P1.817 billion budget for 2023.
Part of the DBM presentation is its proposed funding for National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC) amounting to P10 billion, with an aimed P4 million allocation per barangay.
The NTF-ELCAC for this year has been allotted P5.624 billion, lower than its 2021 allocation of P16.44 billion, with P20 million per village budget allotment.
Before agreeing to allow the agency’s budget to reach the plenary debate, Sen. Nancy Binay quizzed the DBM to present a report on how the NTF-ELCAC spent its budget from years 2020 to 2022.
“Ma’am. wala pa raw hong monitoring for the previous releases,” Budget Undersecretary Tina Rose Canda replied.
For year 2020, the DBM released P1.8 billion fund to NTF-ELCAC covering “various agencies,” Canda said.
Last year, the DBM released P19.24 billion to NTF-ELCAC, which also includes a P16.4 billion Special Purpose Fund, the official added.
“Yung ongoing is P2.9 billion, completed is P3.2 billion. So, parang ni 50 percent of the P16 billion, parang in limbo pa yung projects. How would you justify the additional P10 billion next year when you don’t even know what is going on with this budget?” Binay later on said.
“The justification for the additional amounts would correspond to the cleared barangays. So we allocate them based on their presentation of NTF-ELCAC that the amount would be required for I think, initially, P20 million and then it was cut to P4 million,” Canda said.
Canda said it will be up to the implementing agencies to identify the project or projects.
Sen. Sonny Angara, chairman of the Senate finance committee, noted that mere fund release with the required identification of projects first is tantamount to a “pork barrel.”
"‘Yun ang mahirap, kasi isn’t that a form of pork barrel?” Angara said.
“We gave the NTF-ELCAC I think some leeway in the identification of the projects especially because of the intent of the fund. However, we leave it to the discretion and wisdom of the committee if certain adjustments in the amounts as well as the allocation should be done for the NTF ELCAC,” Canda said.
Senators later instructed the DBM to submit a complete list of projects covered by the NTF-ELCAC budget.
Meanwhile, Senate President Juan Miguel Zubri is pushing for the stricter reporting requirement for NTF-ELCAC’s budget spending.
“Maybe reportorial issues. But this should be subject to of course COA (Commission on Audit) findings and investigations or rather audits… The COA should double time efforts to audit these particular agencies but to remove it completely I'm not in favor,” Zubiri said.
To exact accountability, those who err must be immediately charged, Zubiri said.
Still, Zubiri maintained the advantages that NTF-ELCAC projects claim to bring into the countryside, just like what he has been seeing in his hometown in Bukidnon.
“In many areas of Eastern Mindanao where there is problem on insurgency, marami sa mga barangay ngayon ang kumpleto na sa health centers, kumpleto po ang kanilang imprastraktura, may ilaw na, fully funded ang kanilang lighting projects. Mga kalsada sa kanilang barangay, inaayos na. So I think it's a good thing,” Zubiri said.
In the same hearing, Canda also identified the 10 items classified under the “Special Purpose Fund” with “unprogrammed appropriations.”
- Support for Infrastructure Projects and Social Programs (SIPSIP)
- AFP Modernization Program
- Budgetary Support to Government-Owned and Controlled Corporations
- Support to Foreign-Assisted Projects
- Risk Management Program
- Payment of Arrears of LTO-IT Service
- Refund of the Service Development Fee for the Right to develop the Nampeidai Property in Tokyo, Japan
- Poor Years’ LGU Shares
- Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas Equity Infusion pursuant to RA 11211
- Public Health Emergency Benefits and Awareness for Health Care and Non-Health Workers
“The Unprogrammed Appropriations are standby appropriations authorized under the annual GAA,” Canda said.
These items, according to her, can only be availed if there are excess revenue collection in any identified non-revenue collection sources, new revenue collections arising from new tax or non-tax sources, and approved loans for foreign-assisted projects.
For fiscal year 2023, the DBM proposes a P588.2 billion for he Unprogrammed Appropriations.
'SIPSIP' TO 'HIGOP'?
Senators, including Angara, Senate Minority Leader Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel III and Senate President Pro Tempore Loren Legarda, were meantime intrigued by the nature of the "SIPSIP" acronym.
Budget Secretary Amenah Pangandaman identified the Local Government Support Fund-Financial Assistance (LGSF-FA), Contingent Fund, Miscellaneous and 'SIPSIP' are also similar to the NTF-ELCAC, which do not provide all the details on how its allotted budget are being spent.
“This was created way back during the time of PGMA (President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo) when the resources were tight and when the appropriations were not always available. Naging SIPSIP na po 'yun,” Canda said.
“So, nabuhay na uli yung SIPSIP,” Angara quipped.
Legarda later on interjected and earnestly requested Pangandaman to amend the name of the SIPSIP item.
“It does not sound good… May I make a manifestation, Mr. Chair, that the communication experts in DBM change the acronym of this important fund,” Legarda said.
“Palitan n'yo na raw yung SIPSIP. Palitan nyo na ng higop,” Angara said in jest.
Zubiri, when sought for reaction, said this is his first time to hear the term “SIPSIP” in the budget items.
The committee members later, pending the DBM officials’ submission of the senators’ requested documents, agreed to approve the DBM’s proposed budget, as well as the presented 2023 appropriation of the Metro Manila Development Authority (MMDA) amounting to P4.4 billion.