NEWS | Makabayan Bloc doubts ‘pork-free’ budget for 2021
By Alexandra Kate Ramirez
Lawmakers from the Makabayan bloc in the House of Representatives questioned various funds proposed in the 2021 national budget. Despite the claim of Speaker Lord Allan Velasco that the ₱4.5-trillion budget is free of pork, representatives from the bloc argued that certain allocations are subject to scrutiny and prone to corruption.
As stated in the proposal of the General Appropriations Bill (GAB), the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC) acquired a budget of ₱19.1 billion, wherein P16 billion from this fund is earmarked for its barangay development program.
Gabriela Representative Arlene Brosas contented that the multibillion-peso budget for the task force could have been allotted for the coronavirus response instead.
“There is a ₱19.1-billion budget for the [task force] while many Filipinos are dying from hunger due to the pandemic. [The government] prioritized funding a nonline agency, the [task force], which is just a coordinating body,” Brosas remarked at the meeting with the Development Budget Coordination Committee (DBCC).
Furthermore, she also questioned the allocation of a P38-billion right-of-way budget for the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH), claiming that it is vulnerable to corruption and arbitrary spending. Brosas lamented that even with the huge funds allocated for the maintenance of infrastructures, none of these were designated for healthcare facilities.
“This 2021 budget really abandoned public health, the distribution of assistance, the micro, small and medium enterprises, and the agriculture sector,” Bosas added.
Excessive intel funds
Lawmakers also questioned the ₱4.5 billion budget proposal of the Office of the President (OP) for the confidential and intelligence funds while the Philippines barely defeated the COVID-19 pandemic. Its allocation amounted to more than half of the proposed budget of ₱8.238 billion for Duterte’s office.
Kabataan Partylist Rep. Sarah Elago from the Makabayan bloc argued that the fund could instead be used to enlarge social amelioration programs and strengthen the country’s public healthcare system.
Conversely, Deputy Executive Secretary for Internal Audit Alberto Bernardo defended the OP’s intelligence funds, claiming that terrorist attacks still prevail amidst the pandemic.
“Mas mahalaga po [na may intel funds tayo] sa ganitong krisis, sapagkat napatunayan natin, kahit na ay pandemya ng COVID, mayroon pa rin tayong mga bombings na nangyari dito sa Sulu,” Bernardo said while reiterating the need to prevent syndicates from penetrating the government’s system.
Advocates of government transparency condemn such allocations since expenditures are not disclosed to the public, let alone issued official receipts. Bayan Muna Rep. Eufemia Culliamat said that there will be no accountability on the part of the officials since there was no breakdown of funds in the first place.
As the upper chamber agreed to resume plenary debates on November 9, House appropriations committee chair and Anti-crime and Terrorism Community Involvement (ACT-CIS) Representative Eric Yap said last October 16 that the Senate would receive a soft copy of the approved budget by October 28.
However, Senators Franklin Drilon and Panfilo Lacson raised their concerns about the possible intervention of lawmakers in the duration of amendments, which could also delay the budget’s approval.
Drilon expressed his worry that the small committee of the House, composed of members handpicked by Velasco, might still accept last-minute pork insertions to the budget measure even after its passage on the third reading. While Lacson cited the Constitutional provision which stated, “Upon the last reading of a bill, no amendment thereto shall be allowed.”
Subsequently, Yap assured that the amendments in the House-approved GAB will be proposed by the departments and agencies involved and not by the lawmakers.
Meanwhile, Presidential Communication Operations Office (PCOO) chief Martin Andanar and presidential spokesman Harry Roque exhibited confidence that the budget’s ratification, which was certified urgent by the President, would be promptly ensured.