By INA ALLECO R. SILVERIO
MANILA — Progressive lawmakers strongly criticized President Benigno Aquino III for issuingAdministrative Order 31 last October 1. AO 31 allows for the rationalization and increase of all government fees. Through it, the heads of all departments, bureaus, commissions, agencies, offices, and instrumentalities of the bureaucracy, including government-owned and controlled corporations are directed and authorized to rationalize the rates of their existing fees and charges, and increase such rates and impose new fees and charges if and when they find it necessary.
According to Malacañang, the determination of rates and imposition of new fees and charges should be based on ” a balance between recovering the costs of services rendered and the socio-economic impact of their imposition.” ?
The Task Force on Fees and Charges created under Administrative Order No. 255 (s. 1996) and as reactivated by Executive Order No. 218 (s. 2002) has been tasked to monitor compliance of the concerned agencies, while the Departments of Finance (DOF), Budget and Management (DBM) and the National Economic Development Authority (NEDA) are responsible for promulgating the rules and regulations to implement and monitor compliance.
Insensitivity to Filipinos’ poverty
Lawmakers from Bayan Muna and Kabataan party-list groups said the Aquino government showed “insensitivity” to the plight of Filipinos by issuing AO 31.
“Directing government offices to rationalize and increase fees is the height of Aquino’s insensitivity to the plight of the Filipino people. With the blanket imposition of new and higher fees, the government has now turned into a full-scale profit-seeking business,” Rep. Raymond Palatino of Kabataan.
Palatino said the new administrative order has far-reaching effects – from increasing the cost of acquiring National Census Office-certified birth certificates, to hiking the cost of passports and other document certification processes in various government offices.
“Essentially, what this administrative order intends to do is to squeeze more money from citizens. There’s already the new sin tax, yet Aquino still approved this new imposition. Ordinary, working-class Filipinos will be so burdened by this. The country is in a perennial crisis, so many people are jobless., but Aquino has seen no problem in imposing new taxes and higher government processing fees, he said.
Palatino also argued that many local government units may take AO No. 31 as a cue to also increase fees.
“It is really very alarming. LGUs may follow suit,” he said. He also expressed apprehension that AO No. 31 will also implemented by state universities and colleges (SUCs), which are also government agencies.
“Miscellaneous fees in SUCs have ballooned in recent years, with some SUCs even imposing fees that are higher than the students’ actual tuition. With this order, the administration of SUCs may again justify the imposition of new and higher fees,” Palatino said.
The youth solon called on President Aquino to immediately withdraw AO No. 31.
“The government has been pushing for the digitization of government documents, which would supposedly bring down the cost of transactions. Why push for fee hikes? Before the government orders for new fee hikes and charges, it should first account for all fees that it has collected in the past years,” Palatino said. “It’s ironic that the government, which should supposedly be at the forefront of providing basic services to the people, would be the one to impose such fee hikes.
Makabayan senatorial bet and Bayan Muna lawmaker Teddy Casiño said the Aquino administration should push government agencies and GOCCs to rationalize their expenses instead of their fees and charges.
“Government should first strive for efficiency, show the taxpayers that their money is put to good use, before calling for additional or increased fees,” he said. He pointed out that skimming Commission on Audit reports alone will show that government agencies have a lot to do by way of fixing their finances and making better and productive use of them.
“In fact, what about the recent COA report that government lost P101 billion ($2.4 billion) during the last years to corruption, inefficiencies and irregular expenses?,” he asked.
The Anakbayan youth organization also slammed AO 31, saying that the new order legitimized new forms of “kotong and holdap” (mulcting and hold-up operations) and turned government agencies into fund-raising entities.
“This is basically commercialization of government service. Even as things currently stand so many agencies are imposing unjust and unjustified fees on their services. Don’t we already pay taxes? Why is the government charging for what are essentially public services?” said the group’s chairman Vencer Crisostomo,
He said the blanket memo which will affect all government institutions is “the height of insensitivity.”
“Not only is the government doing nothing to put a stop to oil price increases and the hike in the prices of basic commodities, but now it’s also ordering its agencies to institutionalize mulcting,” he said.
Overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) will also be severely affected by AO 31.
Migrante International’s chapter in the Middle East said the Aquino administration is only using “‘effective government services” as an excuse to impose unjustified and unnecessary fees, many of which are shouldered by OFWs and their families.
Migrante Middle East regional coordinator John Leonard Monterona said OFWs are already being charged some P15,000 to P30,000 ($ 357 to $ 714) for documentation processes they need to undergo as part of overseas deployment formalities.
“This is still separate from the placement fee we have to pay which is equivalent to one month’s salary. OFWs also have to pay for authenticated birth and marriage certificates, clearance from the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) and its authentication; the authentication of school credentials, passport applications or renewals, community tax certificates, the processing fee from the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA), the PAG-IBIG membership fee and Philhealth premiums. The last will increase from the current P900 ($ 21) to P2,400 ($ 57) in January next year,” he said.
Monterona said all the aforementioned documents and the attending processing are covered by AO 31.
“It’s also highly likely that consular fees abroad will eventually increase. In fact, the current fees are already a burden to OFWs. Getting a passport renewed already costs P2,600 ($62),” he said.