FOR ITS FINAL year in office, the administration of President Benigno Aquino III is proposing the largest national budget in history and the first annual outlay to cross the P3-trillion mark. Is it pork barrel-free?

Bayan Muna party-list Rep. Neri Colmenares warns that the graft-prone pork barrel system still persists in the national budget in the form of “lump-sum appropriations.”

The 2016 lump-sum appropriations, he claims, amount to more than P573 billion.

Lump-sum budgets are viewed with suspicion as they do not contain details on how the money would be spent.

“Such amount should surely and obviously be so appealing to our politicians to use as campaign kitty come 2016 elections,” Colmenares, who is running for senator in the May 2016 elections, said in an email to the Varsitarian.

The Department of Budget and Management (DBM), however, contends that only 3 percent or P79.3 billion of the proposed 2016 budget may be strictly considered lump-sum funds. These include calamity funds (P19 billion), contingency funds (P4 billion) and funding for local government units (P50 billion).

The government is proposing P3.002 trillion in expenditures for fiscal year 2016, 15.2 percent or P396 billion more than the approved P2.606 trillion budget for 2015, according to the 2016 national budget e-book.

At any rate, the government’s handling of lump-sum allocations has changed, contrary to allegations, said Francis Capistrano, head of the DBM Strategic Communications Unit.

“Noon, lump-sum lang siya na binigay mo `yung discretion to the executive on how to implement the lump-sum fund,” he said.

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Now, agencies and lawmakers must first identify their projects including details, before the budget is passed. This is to avoid misuse of lump-sum appropriations.

“[Kailangan] magpakita sa amin ng datos kung saan talaga [gagamitin ‘yung budget] para hindi siya prone sa mga prerogative [and] discretions ng mga lawmakers,” said John Alliage Morales, lead writer of the proposed budget’s e-book.

Capistrano argued that the government needed flexibility on lump-sum appropriations because it would not be able to predict how much funding would be required in cases of urgent projects, as well as relief and rehabilitation during calamities and natural disasters.

In this case, lump-sum funds are not the same as pork barrel, also known as Priority Development Assistance Funds (PDAF), previously granted to each member of the Congress for spending on projects in their respective districts or constituencies.

The pork barrel has been subject to intense public scrutiny following newspaper revelations in 2013 implicating several legislators in a 10-year, P10-billion scam that funneled taxpayers’ money into fake nongovernment organizations put up by businesswoman Janet Lim-Napoles.

The 2016 budget was approved by the House of Representatives last Oct. 9 despite objections from the minority, including Colmenares, over the lump-sum appropriations. It is still awaiting approval in the Senate.

Revenue-based

Capistrano said the increase in the proposed budget was not arbitrary but based on the revenues that the government was capable of raising.

“The budget is based on the capacity of the government to fund it, and this capacity of the government to fund the budget is based on its capacity to collect taxes,” Capistrano said in an interview with the Varsitarian.

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A small portion of the national budget is funded by non-tax revenue, which includes fees and licenses, privatization proceeds, and income from other government operations and state-owned enterprises.

Examples of non-tax revenue are collections made by government-owned and -controlled corporations like the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp.

A fifth of GDP

The proposed 2016 budget is equivalent to 19.5 percent of the economy as measured by gross domestic product or GDP, up from 18.7 percent of GDP in 2015. GDP is the value of all goods and services produced by the domestic economy.

In terms of sector, social services will receive the largest allocation next fiscal year, data from the e-booklet showed. The outlay will amount to P1.1059 trillion or 36.84 percent of the proposed budget. This was an increase of 16.1 percent from the 2015 allocation of P952.7 billion.

Social services pertain to programs related to education, healthcare, housing and social welfare and employment.

Economic services will have the second largest share at P829.6 billion, equivalent to 27.64 percent of the proposed budget. This was an increase of 17.3 percent from 2015.

This would be the first time in 30 years that social and economic services would be given the highest allocations, through budget reforms and reduction of debt burden, according to the e-booklet.

General public services rank third, receiving P517.9 billion or 17.25 percent of the total. Debt burden will account for P419.3 billion or 13.97 percent of the 2016 national budget. Defense ranks fifth with P129.1 billion or 4.30 percent.

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DepEd gets highest budget

In accordance with the Constitution, the Department of Education will receive the lion’s share of the budget with an allocation of P436 billion, up by 15.4 percent from its 2015 allocation of P377.7 billion.

The Department of Public Works and Highways follows with P394.5 billion, up by 29.7 percent from its 2015 allocation of P304.1 billion.

Other departments in the top 10 are the Department of National Defense (P172.7 billion); Department of the Interior and Local Government (P154.5 billion); Department of Health (P128.4 billion); Department of Social Welfare and Development (P104.2 billion); Department of Agriculture (P93.4 billion); Department of Finance (P55.3 billion); Department of Transportation and Communications (P49.3 billion); Department of Environment and Natural Resources (P25.8 billion); and Department of Science and Technology (P18.6 billion).

Citizen engagement needed

The e-booklet version of the proposed budget is an effort to strengthen citizen engagement in the budget process. Citizen engagement has been the weakest link in the budget process for years, Capistrano said.

“[Citizen engagement is] not only telling the government what you should fund… [but] for citizens to hold government agencies accountable,” he added.

The e-booklet helps in making the budget more comprehensible to citizens because it translates the five-volume spending program into layman’s terms, Morales said.

The proposed People’s Budget e-booklet is available for preview and download at the website of the Official Gazette, www.gov.ph. Paul Xavier Jaehwa C. Bernardo

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