Friday, October 17, 2014

The 2015 budget: Making waste by making haste


Next week, on October 20, Congress will start deliberations in preparation for the 3rd reading and approval of the 2015 General Appropriation Act. The pressure is on for the House of Representatives to pass the GAA as quickly as possible to give time for the Senate to approve it, and for the Bicameral Committee to harmonize it before the President finally signs it. The Budget 2015 Train is rushing full speed and making haste. However, it may find itself making waste, instead.

The 2015 budget was passed on second reading by the House with the following issues remaining unresolved:

First: Even as the 2015 National Budget will reach a staggering P2.6 trillion the House was only able to scrutinize in detail 23% of the total amount. As I pointed out in an earlier column, the General Appropriations Act is only P1.7 trillion. This is because P888 billion is automatically appropriated. Out of the P1.7trillion proposed GAA, P382 billion is in lump sum appropriations and P120 billion is in unprogrammed funds. Considering the fact that P761 billion is in personnel expenditures which Congress does not touch, it is left with P599 billion for detailed scrutiny. This is equivalent to 23% of the total P2.6 trillion national budget. The first person to call attention to this reality is former Cong. Edcel Lagman.

Second: The lump sum appropriations were not examined in detail. A few intrepid congressman raised questions about stratospheric increases in miscellaneous personnel benefits fund to P118 billion; budgetary support to government corporations to P61 billion and assistance to local government units to P33 billion. These questions were not answered satisfactorily.The same thing happened to Unprogrammed funds.

Third: Automatic appropriations amounting to P888 billion were glossed over. This account includes interest payments of P372.8 billion, P389.8 billion in internal revenue allotments for local governments, employees retirement and insurance premiums at P30.1 billion and P21.2billion for Malampaya fund expenditures and the motor vehicles users charge.

Interest expense is rising even as the Bureau of the Treasury announced that it will go down in 2014 and 2015. Overstatement is possible.

Fourth: The proposed GAA was submitted with over 100 pages of errata–an appalling and unacceptable precedent. Nonetheless it was approved docilely on second reading by the House.

Fifth, and most dangerous: The Special Provisions in the General Appropriation Act contain a redefinition of “savings” which will make it possible for the President to declare savings at any time of the year. The new definition will be retroactive. This provision will erase the historic decision of the Supreme Court on the Development Acceleration Program or DAP.

Congressmen who know the implications of these unresolved issues,along with civil society organizations , media and concerned citizens are hoping that the 2015 Budget will be substantially amended.

But, considering the fact that the 2015 budget is an election budget , and considering the fact that it was passed with alacrity by majority of the members of the House, it is very possible that the 2015 budget will be passed on third and final reading with all its overstatements, errors, lumps, and sly redefinition of “savings.”

If Congress rejects the contentious provisions in the proposed GAA, it will have regained a portion of its “Power of the Purse” and won back its honor. We should celebrate it as a co-equal and independent branch of government.If it passes the GAA, as proposed seven years ago by Cong. Edcel Lagman, Congress should hold a Requiem for its lost “Power of the Purse.”

* * *

Condemn the insane bombing of the Pikit, Cotabato UCCP church!

On Wednesday last week, while members of the Pikit, Cotabato United Church of Christ in the Philippines were holding their Midweek Prayer Services, two unknown persons riding on a motorcycle lobbed a grenade through the main door of the sanctuary and into the church. Two persons, both women, were killed while three more were wounded, one of whom is critical. The victims were identified as Felomena Nacario-Ferolin, a 54 yr.-old head nurse and Gina Cabilunan 39 years old and a public school teacher.

Until now, the perpetrators of this cowardly act of violence have neither been identified nor apprehended. The weapon used was an M203 grenade.

This might be an insignificant news item for national media, but it can be a portent of things to come.No amount of explanations can justify the murder of people peacefully worshipping in a Christian church. All religions condemn the killing of innocents, especially those who are at prayer in a place of worship.

I believe all people of faith are appalled and shocked by this disrespectful act of violence. For us, another term for “church” is “sanctuary.” We seek sanctuary in a church building during storms, fires. We seek safety in the church in times of oppression and danger, in the belief that it will protect us. The message of this murder is that churches are no longer safe.

Already, there are speculations on who the perpetrators of this crime are. Already, angry words and threats have ben expressed. The authorities should solve the murders before emotions are further inflamed and violence escalates. In the meantime, we pray for justice and peace to finally reign.

[OpEd Editor’s note: Prof. Leonor Briones’ Handurawan column normally comes out on Tuesdays. This one got lost in cyberspace but it is about a subject so vital to good governance—the dangers contained in the 2015 Budget bill—that we decided that it should see print before October 20.]

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