P216B in ‘unprogrammed’ budget items questioned
MANILA, Philippines — Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph Recto on Wednesday raised a red flag on Malacañang’s allotment of P216.3 billion for “unprogrammed appropriations,” saying such allocation for various projects was “plagued by lack of transparency.”
According to Recto, the multibillion-peso allocation was not officially integrated in the proposed P4.1-trillion national budget for 2020, which the House of Representatives had already approved and submitted for Senate concurrence.
He said projects funded by the allotment were not clearly spelled out in the National Expenditure Program (NEP) that the Department of Budget and Management had prepared and transmitted to the House.
“It’s like a check containing an amount, but has no particulars,” Recto said in a statement.
‘Fine print’ of budget
“Under the fine print of the national budget, any amount in the (unprogrammed appropriations) can only be released if revenue collections exceed target, new sources of revenue are created or when foreign loans or grants or borrowings are received,” he said.
“But (it) is also plagued by lack of transparency. It is not your ideal itemized section of the budget. Rather, large amounts are placed in generic boxes whose specifics lack elaboration,” he added.
The budget for these items, the Senate leader explained, was like “a parking mall of vehicles, each with a trip ticket to proceed but all waiting for fuel to arrive.”
He said bulk of the amount totaling P90.4 billion was earmarked for “Support to Foreign Assisted Projects,” while another P61.9 billion was set aside for “Budgetary Support to GOCCs (government-owned and -controlled corporations).”
Authority to spend
Recto, a former Senate finance committee chair, pointed out that these allotments were bigger than the P88-billion budget for the Department of Health (DOH) for next year.
“While the release of funds from this is governed by several ‘triggers,’ the authority to spend it comes with the passage of the national budget,” he maintained.
Recto noted that since the allocation had been under the radar the past several years, it steadily grew from P67.5 billion in 2016, to P75.3 billion in 2018 and P197.1 billion this year.
Although certain projects covered by the allotment were actually meritorious, such as the construction of five railways worth P75.8 billion and the P5.4-billion Health Facilities Enhancement Program of the DOH, he said these should be “openly declared in the NEP and not swept under innocuously worded headings.”