“We should have an honest to goodness analysis of the national budget because we owe it to the Filipino people, who want the pork barrel system and lump sums abolished.” – Bayan Muna Rep. Neri Colmenares
By MARYA SALAMAT
MANILA — Bayan Muna Rep. Neri Colmenares urged lawmakers yesterday not to railroad debates on the 2015 budget as the ruling Liberal Party has been threatening to just re-enact this year’s budget if the proposed budget for 2015 by the president is not passed. Congress is currently deliberating on the proposed budget submitted by President Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III and his much-criticized budget secretary Forencio “Butch” Abad. So far, legislators from the progressive Makabayan bloc have pointed to various provisions transforming much of Aquino’s proposed budget into presidential and legislative pork next year, which is widely known as election preparation year.
Makabayan lawmakers have proposed instead to course the budget directly to implementing government agencies, under clearly defined programs. At the same time, they questioned why certain government agencies who have proved unable to implement projects (and thus spend their allotted budget), are being given increased funds in the proposed budget.
Bayan Muna Rep. Neri Colmenares slammed the veiled blackmail of reenacting the 2014 budget if the opposition continues with its criticisms.
Absurd excuse for railroading budget
Colmenares described the excuse cited by most lawmakers in rushing approval of Aquino’s pork-full election 2015 budget by the 26th of this month as “absolutely unacceptable” and a “legislative absurdity.”
In the first place, there is no need to beat a September 26 deadline as lawmakers “have all of October and November to deliberate on it,” Senior Deputy Minority Leader Colmenares explained.
Neither should a specific date for the deadline of passing the budget bill be set, said Colmenares, citing how the bill should undergo strict scrutiny and free debates in Congress. Setting such a deadline would “limit debates and railroad the proceedings just to follow the dictates of Malacañang,” he adds.
But do the majority of lawmakers want to strictly scrutinize the budget bill? Why is the budget bill the only bill in Congress with a self-imposed deadline by the majority, and yet they “refuse to muster a quorum,” causing a delay in the deliberations? Colmenares said absentee lawmakers are, in fact, the ones delaying the budget deliberation, and not the questions and debates by members of the opposition.
Enough of ‘we have the numbers’ bullying
Colmenares urged his fellow lawmakers who constitute “the majority” in Congress to ditch their “usual style” of reducing the deliberations to a numbers game.
“We should have an honest to goodness analysis of the national budget because we owe it to the Filipino people, who want the pork barrel system and lump sums abolished,” said the progressive solon. So far, the Congress has recorded just one session with a quorum.
The most recent experience when “the numbers” game was used to defend the president from critics was when his allies in Congress killed the impeachment proposals in just two committee hearings on its substance, surpassing even the record for killing impeachment raps set by the past administration of Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. President Aquino had promised to be the opposite of Arroyo.
Always hard choices for the people?
The Makabayan bloc of lawmakers vowed that they would fight tooth and nail against the threat of reenacting 2014 budget, which, Colmenares said, is being thrown at them as if to silence their questions.
Past statements of opposition lawmakers and also of other civil society organizations have explained how the proposed 2015 budget is an election budget favoring Aquino’s allies and still featuring huge pork, and that these pork are forming lumps not just in disaster and emergency funds as Abad claimed in defense of their proposed budget.
But reenacting this year’s budget will also not eradicate pork or suspicions that public funds are being used by the president for patronage politics. According to Colmenares, reenacting this year’s budget “will turn the whole national budget into the pork barrel of the president and accountability would be very hard because he can do what he pleases with the entire budget. This becomes doubly dangerous considering that 2016 is an election year.”
Colmenares clarified that his group is not asking his fellow lawmakers to continue budget deliberations during Congress’ scheduled break on Sept. 26, but instead to resume it on Oct. 19 when they reconvene.
“It will not get in the way of the already planned vacations of some lawmakers, although we will not mind if Congress foregoes with the break and holds further deliberations on the budget,” Colmenares said.
Since Congress has until Dec. 31 to approve the General Appropriations Act (GAA), lawmakers have “ample time” for deliberations after their break, Colmenares reasoned. He warned lawmakers of people’s outrage if Congress forgoes debates or allows for reenacted budget instead “just because congressmen want to take their vacation.”
As early as August when budget deliberations in Congress entered its second week, legislators especially from the progressive partylist bloc have already pointed out details bedeviling Malacañang’s proposed 2015 budget. These include, so far, the persistence of pork under various guises; the seemingly built-in danger that budgets approved by Congress could be transformed into pork; the suspicious allocations that could be diverted to the campaign kitty of the ruling party for the 2016 elections; the budget’s seeming design to once more declare “savings” prematurely; and the fact that also built-in with this budget are plans to worsen debt dependence.
Budget Sec. Abad has defended lump sum appropriations as something unavoidable in budgeting, citing funds for disasters, for example.
Former National Treasurer Leonor Briones who has also studied the 2015 proposed budget has said earlier, “We need to remove vulnerabilities in the budget disguised as a need for Executive flexibility.” Without reforms in Aquino’s proposed budget, she has also warned that in 2015, “We will have an election budget filled with lump sums and one that does not adequately address social development.” She has also asked Congress to do its duty to serve the people, to prioritize what needs to be prioritized.