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Belmonte, Drilon take us all for fools

It’s so sad for our country that our high officials, the leaders of the legislature, either are taking us for fools, think we’re all stupid, or are treating us like kids who don’t deserve any explanation.

Reacting to the escalating protest that the 2015 budget still retains pork barrel that the Supreme Court ruled unconstitutional, House Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr. simply dismissed Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago’s criticism in two curt sentences: “That’s her opinion. No pork in our budget.“ He didn’t bother to elaborate, even in The Philippine Star, which his sons manage, that could have given him a whole page for an explanation. “No pork barrel, basta!” is what Belmonte is saying.

Senate President Franklin Drilon on the other couldn’t get rid of his arrogant, threatening so-sue-me ways, and said: “If you think there’s pork in the 2015 budget, go to the Supreme Court.”

Despite the vehement protest of the chamber’s now most senior, and most distinguished member, Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago, the Senate approved the budget a day after the feisty legislator’s privilege speech. No interpellation, no speech by the sponsors of the budget bill to argue against Santiago’s protest. The senators obviously sent a message that they think she just spouted utter nonsense. It is significant though that only a bare majority, 13 out of the 24 senators, voted to approve the budget.

We have an arrogant Senate and House of Representatives that think the nation doesn’t deserve an explanation on an issue the Supreme Court itself had said its piece: that the pork barrel is unconstitutional. I am outraged that they can claim that there is no pork barrel, when they know there is.

Source: DBM. 2014 as “Bottom Up Budgeting” Projects 2015 as “Grassroots Participatory Budgeting” Projects. Name in bold font are members of House Justice Committee, in charge of impeachment complaints.

There are lump-sum funds in the budget that President Aquino through his Budget Secretary Florencio Abad has the discretion to direct the use of, to ensure the loyalty and cooperation of a senator or a congressman in his schemes.

One such fund is the agriculture department’s P13 billion budget for “National Programs for Rice, Corn, High Value Commercial Crops and Livestock.” The proposed budget doesn’t specify how and which areas this huge fund will be used, with the department given the discretion to allocate it as it wishes, just as long as it “prioritizes the major rice-producing provinces. Several other departments and agencies have such lump-sum budgets. Senator Francis Escudero, who always pretends to be angry at this administration, unwittingly disclosed his real servility to it by saying he “cannot trace these lump-sum funds.” What? Does he need somebody to tell him the page in the budget bill where such funds are provided for?

New pork: ‘Grassroots Budgeting’

I, however, have focused in my research on what I am sure 100 percent is the pork-barrel fund in the 2015 budget bill, revised a bit to go around the Supreme Court ruling Abad has diabolically termed this pork barrel 2015 edition as the “Grassroots Participatory Budgeting Projects.”

“Diabolical” as he gave it a noble nomenclature to pretend it is a democratic exercise, when it is designed entirely to disguise the pork barrel scheme for next year. Even its total next year, P20.9 billion, is Abad’s calculation of the inflation-adjusted amount for the pork-barrel funds of P16 billion each for 2011 and 2012.

Belmonte, Drilon and Senate finance committee chairman Escudero can’t even say the term “Grassroots Participatory Budgeting” (GPB) in their replies to critics who are alleging that pork barrel exists in the 2015 budget. They are so intent on keeping this 2015 pork barrel a secret they don’t even dare mention its nomenclature.

One of the Supreme Court’s definitions of pork barrel, which it ruled unconstitutional, is as follows: “An appropriation of government spending meant for localized projects and secured solely or primarily to bring money to a representative’s district.”

Going by this definition, the GPB projects are incontrovertibly pork-barrel money. Aquino and Abad, however, revised certain aspects of its use in order to skirt — in their calculation—certain conclusions of the court.

Instead of allocating a certain amount (P70 million) annually per congressman as in the old pork barrel system, the GPB allocated P12 to P15 million per municipality. This was a boon to some of Aquino’s lackeys. Eastern Samar representative Ben Evardone in effect will get P170 million next year, a jump from the P58 million the average he was allocated for 2011-2013. No wonder he’s the noisiest in defending Aquino’s 2015 budget and shouting deadpan, “No pork in budget.” Abad’s Batanes, where his wife is sole congressman of, will get P95 million, from the P58 million the previous years.

To hide these pork-barrel funds, these are not put in a separate major allocation, such as “Priority Development Assistance Fund” or “Countrywide Development Fund”, as was the practice since 1990.

Instead, there is a special provision in the budget of 14 departments and agencies that provides that out of these a certain amount will be used exclusively for “various programs and projects of LGUs” which are identified in another part of the bill. That for the Agriculture department for instance is as shown in the following provision:

Provision in agriculture department’s budget for pork barrel

The biggest GPB fund among the 14 departments and agencies is P5.8 billion in the Interior and Local Government department, which allocation prompted Senator Santiago to claim that the budget was tailor-fit for DILG Secretary Mar Roxas’ presidential bid in 2016. The DILG chief would have nearly total control of this multi-billion fund.

In Abad and Aquino’s thinking, there can be no pork barrel, since the funds are allocated to municipalities, not to congressmen. A party-list congressman and Senator Santiago, however, have exposed the fact that the GPB projects are determined by the congressmen, with the latter explaining that forms were even distributed by Abad for this purpose. No wonder the congressmen are so supportive of the 2015 budget bill.

Abad claims that the GPB does not violate the court’s ban that Congress cannot interfere with budget allocations after the law has been passed. But the list of GPB projects contains so many fund items with still unidentified uses. Who will determine what projects would be funded? Everyone knows that it will be the congressman who has and always will be municipalities’ only link with the Budget department.

Abad though invented another ruse that he thinks will hide such congressmen’s role in local projects, which is the reason for the scheme’s “Grassroots Participatory” description. He claims the GPB projects were chosen not by congressmen but by an assembly in each of 1,600 municipalities consisting local officials and leaders of NGOs.

Such hogwash, and it’s very insulting for Abad to think that we would believe that.

There isn’t any country in the world, including the most egalitarian and democratic societies, that has succeeded in having such bottom-up budgeting system. Abad changed the name to “Grassroots Participatory Budgeting” as budget officials were deliberately misnaming it “bottoms-up,” instead of “bottom up.” They probably thought they were celebrating with Abad his brilliant trick.