Ex-national treasurer calls for scrapping of P450B Presidential pork barrel

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Former National Treasurer Leonor Briones: Slay the bigger monster. PHOTO FROM FACEBOOK.COM

MANILA, Philippines—Suspending the “pork barrel” or scrapping it altogether is good, but why not slay the bigger monster in the annual national budget?

That creature would be the “special purpose funds” (SPF) of President Aquino which, at P449.95 billion, eat up about a fifth of the entire P2.268-trillion budget proposed for 2014.

The present subject of widespread public outrage—the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF), or pork barrel—is only about 5.5 percent (or P25.24 billion) of the incoming SPF, according to former National Treasurer Leonor Briones.

“But it’s a good start because we need to start somewhere anyway,” she told the Philippine Daily Inquirer. “The other secrets of the budget, it will take some time for the public to understand them and to be familiar with them.”

Briones’ group, Social Watch Philippines, has been advocating a bigger “budget reform,” which would include the SPF, a big-ticket item with supposedly “no historical record on how it started.”

The “entire special purpose fund is under the control of the President,” a sort of pork barrel of his own, she pointed out.

‘Like Congress’

“What happens is the President behaves like Congress himself. He’s like a little legislature himself,” she said, referring to the way the sitting Chief Executive is allowed to give away the SPF to agencies and legislators of his choice, even after Congress has deliberated on the budget.

“Whoever is favored by the President, they just need to go to him and he will make all the transfers in the budget.”

President Aquino was earlier reported as saying he was suspending the distribution of the pork barrel until the investigation into the alleged P10-billion PDAF scam was completed. Senators are each allotted P200 million in annual PDAF, while House representatives each get P70 million yearly.

But taking away the pork would not necessarily mean legislators would be left with nothing in the 2014 national budget. Here come the special purpose funds, which are “nonpermanent in nature” and “subject to a special provision and the approval of the President.”

“Every thing in this budget, you can insert. You just need to be good, imaginative,” Joseph Rañola, head of the Center for National Budget, told the Philippine Daily Inquirer in a separate interview on Monday night.

Included in the SPF is the “unprogrammed fund” worth P139.9 billion for 2014, which is more than P22 billion higher than the existing item in this year’s budget.

A big chunk of the SPF is earmarked under the item “budgetary support for government corporations,” which amounts to P46.69 billion in the 2014 budget. It was worth only P4.9 billion in the 2002 budget, then ballooned to P24.2 billion in 2010 and P44.6 billion this year.

Better under ‘regular’ budget

For Briones, special purpose funds are better allocated under the “regular” budget for different government agencies, so they could be better scrutinized by Congress.

This year, the Department of Education has the biggest “regular” budget at P232.59 billion, followed by the Department of Public Works and Highways with P155.5 billion.

The allocation, though, did not mean that the agencies had nothing else left in other parts of the budget.

Briones questioned the wisdom behind allocating P2.47 billion in “e-government fund” under the SPF, instead of placing the amount under the regular budget of the agency in charge of information technology.

The same would go with the P7.5-billion calamity fund placed under the discretion of the President under the SPF, when it could have been allocated to the department on climate change or disaster management, she said.

The Cagayan Economic Zone Authority, a pet project of Sen. Juan Ponce Enrile, stands to get P890.8 million in next year’s proposed budget. It got P1.129 billion in 2009 and P1.114 billion the following year, all under the SPF.

The Aurora Pacific Economic Zone and Freeport Authority, a separate pet project by former Sen. Edgardo Angara, was allotted P76 million in next year’s budget. It has been getting funding since 2008, the highest amount hitting P800 million two years later.

Not as fortunate was the Cottage Industry Technology Center, which was given only P9 million both this year and the next. The Center for International Trade Expo and Missions stands to get P186.4 million next year.

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