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Budget laws beyond Aquino

Both President Aquino and Budget Secretary Florencio Abad think that Filipinos are so stupid they can be fooled all of the time, or budget laws are just beyond their comprehension—or respect.

I reported in my column Friday that Aquino used, other than fabricated “savings”, profits of government-owned and controlled corporations (GOCCs) to fund his controversial Disbursement Acceleration Plan (DAP).

I explained that this is patently illegal—impeachable—as GOCCs’ profits remitted to the treasury become part of the General Fund.

This is because the use of every single centavo and peso of the General Fund, with some exceptions stipulated by certain laws, according to the Constitution and the 1987 Administrative Code, has to be authorized by Congress through the general appropriations acts it enacts every year. The DAP wasn’t authorized by any provision in budget laws from 2011 to this day.

Reacting to my column, Aquino’s deputy spokesperson Abigail Valte claimed that the president is authorized by law to use “unprogrammed funds” at his discretion.

She added: “To those of us who may be wondering what are unprogrammed funds, these are standby appropriations that can be used when revenue collections exceed the original revenue targets.”

We have a very confused spokesperson here.

First, the “Unprogrammed Fund” is not the “General Fund” to which GOCCs’ profits—and those of all national government units—are remitted to. The General Fund is the nation’s cash on hand and bank balance, as it were, whose utilization must be authorized by budget laws.

The Unprogrammed Fund on the other hand is a special item in the budget, which is not “unprogrammed” in the sense that its use hasn’t been specified by the budget law. It is termed such only because the amounts under it can be released only when the government’s revenue collections exceed its revenue targets. The budget law in effect says that the Unprogrammed Fund can be used only when government has “extra cash”, as it were, unlike all the other regular budget items which are released whether or not the state has a strong bank balance.

Revenues didn’t exceed estimates from 2011 to 2013—it never did in our nation’s modern history, I think—which already makes Aquino’s use of the Unprogrammed Fund for his DAP his illegal.

More importantly, in her confused mind, Valte thinks that because of the adjective “unprogrammed”, the budget law gives the President the discretion to use this Fund anyway he wants to.

This is absolutely false, which you can easily verify for yourself once you read the budget laws for each year that are posted in the budget department’s website.

For instance In the appropriations act for 2011 when Aquino first hijacked money from so many items in the budget to fund his DAP, the Unprogrammed Fund was allocated P67 billion.

The budget law however listed the projects the Fund could finance, among which are: P11 billion for support to foreign-assisted projects, P3 billion for payment of World War II veterans’ pension, and P1 billon for support for pre-school education.

Valte I think got a bit cross-eyed when she read that an item authorized to be funded by the Unprogrammed Fund was for “budgetary support to GOCCs.” If she read the provision again using normal vision, that obviously meant giving money to GOCCs from the Fund, rather than getting their profits to finance the DAP, as Aquino did.

The biggest allocation of the Unprogrammed Fund for the past several years was for “Support for Infrastructure Projects and Social Programs,” which in 2011 amounted to P27 billion.

“Aha!” Valte would have shrieked and scolded us: “There you are! Many of the DAP projects are PNoy’s infrastructure and projects and social programs!”

Nope. And this is the problem, as former senator Joker Arroyo pointed out, with indolent spokespersons of student-council kind of government. They don’t bother to do their homework.

Yes, the 2011 budget law authorized the use of the Unprogrammed Fund for “Support for Infrastructure Projects and Social Programs.” But if Aquino’s spokesperson just took the time to read through the relevant section, she would have understood that this money couldn’t be used at the president’s discretion, to fund, for example, the P100 million extra pork for administration senators to ensure they follow the President’s wish to take out chief justice Renato Corona.

The 2011 budget law specifically allocated this unprogrammed fund as follows: ”The amount authorized under Purpose 5 may be used for the implementation of the Comprehensive Rehabilitation Master plan of the town of Bacolor, Pampanga, pursuant to R.A. NO. 9506 dated September 28, 2008.”

That law was passed to fund the building of more dikes to shield Bacolor from lahar flows created by the 1991 Mt. Pinatubo eruption, which continued to ravage the town whenever heavy rains hyper-saturated the volcanic material and turn it into destructive floods.

Either revenues from 2010 to 2013 never exceeded government targets (the requirement for unprogrammed funds to be released) or it is another instance on Aquino’s part to hit again at former President Arroyo whose bastion has been Pampanga: That allocation for Bacolor was repeated in each budget law from 2010 to 2013.

To be fair to Valte though, who after all merely parrots whatever is fed to her by her bosses, the erroneous justification for the money that financed the DAP, that it came from the Unprogrammed Fund wasn’t her idea.

The document “Q&A on the DAP” posted at Malacañang’s website gov.ph pointed out: “Funds for the DAP were sourced through savings generated by the government.. as well as the Unprogrammed Fund that can be tapped when government has windfall revenue collections. “

It seems budget laws are either beyond Aquino’s comprehension, or beyond his respect.