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Budget cuts seen to worsen services

Slashing the budgets or defunding corruption-hit government agencies will only lead to poorer public services, lawmakers said as they debated the proposal of the House appropriations committee chair.

For Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon, the idea of ACT-CIS Rep. Eric Yap, chair of the House appropriations committee, to cut or scrap the budgets of corruption-plagued agencies might make “good media copy but [it is] not the appropriate remedy.”

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Drilon said that “even a reduced budget can still be plundered if handled by the same corrupt officials.”

‘Effective prosecution’

“Will Congressman Yap reduce the budget of [Philippine Health Insurance Corp. or PhilHealth] because of corruption in that agency?” he said in a text message to reporters.

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“Will Congressman Yap reduce the budget of [the Department of Social Welfare and Development] because of reports of corruption among barangay chair in the distribution of the [social amelioration program or SAP]?” Drilon said, adding that it did not make sense to “punish” agencies for the actions of those at the helm.

“Why will you punish PhilHealth, or SAP beneficiaries, especially during this pandemic, for the acts of its officials?” Drilon said.

“Effective prosecution of corrupt officials, and strengthening antigraft laws, and not the reduction of the budget, are the proper and more effective remedy,” he said.

House investigations

Drilon was reacting to Yap’s announcement on Thursday that the House appropriations panel would launch investigations on graft-ridden state agencies and said the committee might slash or even scrap the budgets of agencies mired in corruption.

Once the Senate has passed its own version of the budget measure, Yap said he would propose during the bicameral conference deep cuts to the budgets of corruption-ridden agencies or defunding of agencies and transferring their budgets to others that need more funds.

‘Identify persons involved’

But Muntinlupa Rep. Ruffy Biazon, vice chair of the committee, disagreed.

“I’d rather that the agencies with identified persons involved in corruption should make these persons answerable. Either they are cut off from the agency whether by dismissal, suspension or transfer,” Biazon said in an online forum on Friday.

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He added: “A budget cut to the agency would result in a cut in its performance. In these times, it’s difficult to slash it just like that” and that budget cuts will affect the public, who are “supposed to receive services from the agencies.”

Yap proposed the budget cuts after President Duterte announced on Tuesday that the Department of Justice would launch a sweeping investigation of corruption prone agencies, like the Department of Public Works and Highways, Bureau of Internal Revenue, Bureau of Customs, Land Registration Authority and PhilHealth.

‘Transparency at the top’

But the Makabayan bloc in the House doubted that such an investigation would even succeed and that Mr. Duterte should fight corruption by punishing the “big fish.”

“If the President really desires to get rid of corruption in the bureaucracy, he should start with the PhilHealth executives. He said they will pay, but they are still free—Health Secretary Francisco Duque III and former PhilHealth president Ricardo Morales. He can only go after small-time officials as the scapegoat, but turns soft [on] the big-time thieves,” Gabriela Rep. Arlene Brosas said.

“Any fight against corruption must start with transparency at the top. So why has President Duterte not released his SALN (statement of assets and liabilities) for three years? Is he hiding something?” she asked.

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TAGS: budget, Budget cut, corruption, Government agency, Graft
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