President Benigno Aquino III is not about to let go of the other lump sum appropriations in the national budget.
Although he now favors the scrapping of the congressional pork barrel, or the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF), Mr. Aquino disputed Sen. Juan Ponce Enrile’s position that all the other lump sum appropriations of government agencies and offices should also be abolished.
In a press conference on Friday, Enrile called not just for the scrapping of the PDAF but also of all lump sum appropriations of all government agencies.
“If it must be scrapped, the pork barrel system should be scrapped totally. We should not only look at scrapping the PDAF but include the various ‘pork barrel’ or lump sum appropriations of all departments of government in the General Appropriations Act as well,” Enrile said.
What about intel funds?
The proposed P2.268-trillion General Appropriations Act (GAA) for 2014 contains a provision of P7.5 billion as calamity fund and another P1 billion as contingency fund, whose disbursement is according to the discretion of the President.
However, both Mr. Aquino and Enrile were silent on the fate of intelligence funds, which are allotted even to agencies and offices outside of the law enforcement and security apparatus of the government, such as the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp. and the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office.
In his own press conference in which he announced the abolition of the pork barrel, Mr. Aquino said that while he viewed Enrile’s idea as “good in principle” he said the government had to be prepared for expenditures that cannot be covered in the national budget.
Subjecting all government expenditures to line-item budgeting would be ideal, he said, but the reality on the ground compelled government to prepare for contingencies.
“How can you itemize at the beginning of the year the expenses to be funded by the calamity fund when a storm has yet to hit (the country)?” he said.
This would also be the case when it comes to government’s response to and rehabilitation efforts for communities devastated by earthquakes and other calamities, the President said.
Mr. Aquino explained further that the contingency fund, as the name implies, is used for expenses that could not be programmed into the national budget, or the GAA, such as the hiring of new teachers and state employees.
“So by their very nature, there are certain funds that can’t be itemized. But, to a large degree, we really want the budget to be transparent and easy to understand, so that when people check these specific projects, they will know where every peso coming from the National Treasury was spent,” Mr. Aquino said.
He said he could be guilty of malversation of public funds if, for example, Congress were to earmark funds for response and rehabilitation of areas to be hit only by 20 typhoons and then the country was hit by more than 20 typhoons.
Budget Secretary Florencio Abad also defended the retention of the calamity fund and contingency fund in the proposed budget for next year whose disbursement is subject to the discretion of the President.
“The calamity fund is dictated by a calamity that happens. The contingency is also dependent on the contingency being addressed (for instance, the evacuation of Filipinos in Syria or Egypt),” said Abad in a text message.
He said the Commission on Audit would do “post-audits” of the funds.