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MANILA, Philippines - As in previous years, small infrastructure projects amounting to billions of pesos and other "insertions" made their way into the P3.002 trillion 2016 budget that was recently signed into law by President Benigno Aquino III, the budget watchdog Social Watch Philippines disclosed on Friday.
Leonor Briones, lead convenor of the group, said that the projects include farm-to-market roads "which are identified with legislators who tend to claim credit for them during election sorties."
While the National Expenditure Program (NEP) totals P3.002 trillion, more than P930 billion is in automatic appropriations; while Special Purpose Funds make up P408 billion and Unprogrammed Funds total P67.5 billion.
Loaded with pork, lumpsums
"The recently signed budget is loaded with pork and lump sum appropriations," Briones said.
"Transparency is the hallmark of accountable budgeting," Briones pointed out, "but, the practice now is for legislators to send instructions to agencies just by text or telephone calls. This is true for health assistance, employment and cash dole-outs. This trend further muddles the flow of information to the public, especially since there is no paper trail."
Social Watch identified some examples of revisions and budgetary adjustments as follows:
P326 million increase for Farm to Market Road Projects under the Department of Agriculture (P7.377 billion from P7.051 billion in National Expenditure Program)
P987.930 million increase for Assistance to Indigent Patients under the Department of Health-Office of the Secretary (P2.783 billion from P1.795 billion in NEP)
P2.54 billion increase for Government Internship Program and Tulong Pangkabuhayan sa Ating Disadvantaged Workers Project under the Department of Labor and Employment-Office of the Secretary
P403 million increase for Training for Work Scholarship Program under the DOLE-Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (P2.206 billion from P2.203 billion in NEP)
P1.248 billion increase for Local Infrastructure Program under Department of Public Works and Highways-Office of the Secretary (P19.813 billion from
P18.566 billion in NEP)
P5.382 billion increase for Protective Services Program under the Department of Social Welfare and Development-Office of Secretary (P6.698 billion from P1.315 billion in NEP)
P144 million increase for Tulong Dunong Program under the Commission on Higher Education (P1.130 billion from P986.231 million in NEP)
P662.538 million increase for Financial Assistance to LGUs under Local Government Support Fund in the Allocation to Local Government Units (P862.538 million from P200 million in NEP)
Earlier, Social Watch estimated, around P33.2 billion went to PDAF-like funds distributed across five agencies, alluding to PDAF, or the Priority Development Assistance Fund, a discretionary fund in the Philippines available to members of Congress that has been shot down by the Supreme Court in November 2013 as unconstitutional.
"Estimates from other groups are more or less similar to what we have arrived at," Briones said.
"We are reiterating our observation that the 2016 budget will benefit the political objectives of the present administration as well as the incoming officials. This is due to the redefinition of the term 'savings', which is provided for in the general provisions of the GAA.
"The provisions of the 2016 budget can easily be changed and transferred; projects can be stopped; new projects can be initiated because of the redefinition," she added.
The redefinition of savings and authorizes the transfer of DAP-like funds already declared by the Supreme Court as unconstitutional.
DAP stands for Disbursement Acceleration Program, a stimulus package under the Aquino administration designed to fast-track public spending and push economic growth. In February 2015, the Supreme Court declared with finality that it is unconstitutional.
At the same time, Social Watch called on the Executive to bare more details on the 27 amendments approved by the bicameral committee of Congress, which were subject to so-called "conditional implementation."
"The Constitution does not provide for conditional implementation. The proposed General Appropriations Act can either be approved in full, or particular line items vetoed by the President," Briones, former National Treasurer, said.
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